Aasif Mandvi

Aasif Mandvi 

Words: Noah Davis
Photography: Adam Cantor/Corbis Online

Making global politics a laughing matter.

Aasif Mandvi just premiered his Funny or Die series, Halal in the Family; his HBO show with Jack Black, The Brink, debuts on June 21; and he continues his star-making role as The Daily Show’s Senior Muslim Correspondent. Mandvi spoke to The Red Bulletin about the power of satire, the ongoing impact of The Daily Show as it transitions from Jon Stewart to Trevor Noah, and who, exactly, is running the asylum. 

THE RED BULLETIN: Halal and The Brink are both fictionalized, which is a departure from The Daily Show.

AASIF MANDVI: They still exist in the intersection of satire and geopolitics. The Brink is fictionalized, but it deals with real issues. It’s one global crisis over the course of 10 episodes. It’s funny in a very dark, Dr. Strangelove kind of way. People get killed. Shit gets blown up. It’s not always pretty, but it points out the absurdity of warfare and what a bunch of guys swinging their dicks around like they are going to blow each other up can do.

What do you think is the power of satire?

A lot of people, whether I think it’s good or not, get their news from The Daily Show. I don’t know what that means about whether we’re a lazy culture or if we don’t want to think about hard things unless they are presented to us with a spoonful of sugar. Satire puts the lens where you couldn’t otherwise put it and allows us to examine the hypocrisy of our own culture and behavior in a way that makes us laugh at ourselves. The line between news and comedy is blurring. I don’t know if it’s a great thing or if it means the inmates have taken over the asylum. Maybe it means the inmates know how to run the asylum better.

Are your multiple projects a conscious effort to avoid being typecast as “The guy from The Daily Show who does the Muslim stuff”?

I don’t have a traditional pedigree for Daily Show correspondents. Most come from standup or improv. My background is more theater and acting. I’ve done as much if not more dramatic work in my career than comedic work. People know me now because The Daily Show is such a zeitgeist- penetrating type of show, but I’ve always gone off and done other stuff.

Watch Aasif Mandvi on The Daily Show.

Despite this, you fell into the role of a spokesman for the Muslim community. Do you get tired of it?

The irony is that the majority of the stuff I have gotten to do on The Daily Show has had nothing to do with being Muslim or being the Muslim correspondent. I’ve gotten to do some really stupid, funny shit. Take The Brink. On a high level, we’re speaking about global politics. But there’s hardly anything about Islam. It’s mostly about just a funny show with Jack Black and myself blowing stuff up. But not in a Muslim way. [Laughs.]

“The inmates know how to run the asylum better.”

Do you think Americans have become more tolerant or less tolerant of Islam? How has that changed your comedy?

You have the sense of Islam as a dirty word. That’s a sad journey to have gone on. It makes it hard for anybody to have a nuanced conversation about this stuff. It’s made it hard for artists and writers. It’s black and white, fear and not fear, good and bad. All of the gray has been taken away. That can’t be good for society … there seems to be a tremendous amount of fear in our culture now.

The Daily Show is going to go through a big transition in August when Jon Stewart steps down. How do you think Trevor Noah will do?

I wish him the best. Americans don’t really know him. Abroad, he’s a very, very successful standup comic. I think [Comedy Central] wanted to find somebody who was a new face. He’s going to create the show that he wants to create. We’re not going to get a Jon Stewart clone—when he leaves, it’s going to be the end of an era. The comparisons to Jon Stewart will kill you, so you have to do something completely your own. You can’t try to do what Jon did. It just won’t work.

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