Former Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi tackles political, religious issues with humor

Jake Holland, Assistant Campus Editor

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Comedian Aasif Mandvi told students to always fight Islamophobia at a talk hosted by South Asian Students Alliance and the Muslim-cultural Students Association on Friday.

The talk, held in Ryan Auditorium, was organized by McSA and SASA as their annual winter co-sponsorship event. Mandvi, a former senior correspondent on “The Daily Show,” spoke about his experience growing up as a South Asian Muslim in England and the United States, as well as the hardships he faced trying to become an actor.

Rimsha Ganatra, co-president of McSA, told The Daily that the student organizations chose Mandvi as a speaker because of his ties to both South Asian and Muslim communities.

“Aasif having a Muslim upbringing and being a South Asian allowed us to combine the two cultural groups and bring them together in the form of one speaker,” the Weinberg senior said.

Mandvi, an actor, comedian and social activist, used wit and humor to discuss serious topics like President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order, which barred citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days. The order is currently held in court.

“If he really wants to keep (Muslims) out, he should build a wall of bacon,” Mandvi said, referencing the fact that Islamic dietary law prohibits the consumption of pork products.

Mandvi also discussed his lack of religiosity as a teenager and young adult, joking that he was “the worst Muslim out there.” But 9/11 increased his visibility as a Muslim American, he said, and many were quick to attach the label to him despite his lack of involvement with Muslim religious organizations at the time.

After Mandvi’s talk, organizers played a clip from “Halal in the Family,” a web series starring Mandvi and Sakina Jaffrey, an actress who has also appeared in “House of Cards” and “Mr. Robot.” The show took a family sitcom formula and transformed it into a vehicle for dismantling Islamophobia by showing the everyday lives of Muslims with humor, he said.

Aneesa Johnson, a Communication junior who attended the event, told The Daily she appreciated the show, which won a Peabody award and was recently picked up by TBS.

“I love his show. I used to watch it my freshman year in the library when I didn’t want to study,” Johnson said, laughing. “It’s really exciting that it’s going to be an animated series on a network.”

During a Q&A session moderated by history Prof. Rajeev Kinra, Mandvi responded to a question about how young Muslims should react to “an uncertain future” under Trump, saying they should fight back by continuing to pursue their passions.

“From the activism side, don’t get distracted. We have to keep on writing, acting, et cetera,” he said. “I don’t know what else to do besides that.”

Ganatra said having spaces to amplify Muslim and South Asian voices is vital because it enables people to dismantle preconceived notions of certain groups.

“Representation is important because if people don’t know who we are, then how are they supposed to be comfortable around us?” she told The Daily. “The idea of just being visible … helps us combat those prejudices just by existing.”

Email: jacobholland2020@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @jakeholland97

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