Aasif Mandvi: Bringing Levity To A Muslim America...And Everyone Else Who Lives Here
My familiarity with Aasif Mandvi and his work began in 2008. Aasif played a dentist in a romantic comedy, Ghost Town, alongside Ricky Gervais and it just so happened that the woman in charge of special effects for that movie was also the executive producer on a children’s television series I was creating at the time. Long story short, I attended the premiere of Ghost Town, loved it, and have loved Aasif Mandvi ever since. Both are favorites of mine, continue to make me laugh...and draw me back to them when real-life lunacy trumps pretend. And lately...it has. It feels as if our nation is being torn apart and the aggression among all sides, all interests, and all parties just keeps elevating -- especially when it comes to Muslim Americans and immigration.
Aasif Mandvi’s Muslim roots have, certainly, never been hidden. In fact, they have been intricate in the fashioning of the colorful pattern of his career as an actor, writer, comedian, and on-air television personality -- hoping and helping to replace fear with increased understanding of a community, religion, and culture quite unknown and even frightening to a large portion of the population of the United States. And although, there are moments when he can be quite serious about the topic, more times than not, he uses his humor to educate, inform, and clarify, ultimately coaxing the audience to “think”. I’ve never known “thinking” to be a bad thing, have you?
No, I don’t see Aasif Mandvi going the way of Senator Al Franken in his future. But I do admire his resolve to use his unique professional position and personal understanding to bring 'increased awareness' and 'change' to this nation. Regardless of whether or not you agree with him, you can, undoubtedly, learn from him through his actions as well as his interview below.
Share your personal mantra.
I don't know if I have a personal mantra per se, but my favorite quote has always been one by Mother Theresa where she said " I do what I do, because there's a Hitler inside me."
Explain your evolution into entertainment. Did your family naturally expect this of you based upon your personality and childhood endeavors/antics or did you throw them for a loop?
I knew I wanted to be an actor from the time I was very young. I was writing poetry and plays when other boys were out playing sports, so my family knew I was a theatre dork from the very beginning.
What do you consider yourself first - a writer, producer, comedian, actor, author, television personality - and how different is that from when you began? (Were your expectations in-line with your outcome?)
I think of myself - first and foremost - as an actor; maybe after that, a writer, but comedian and television personality was never my expectation. The last thing I expected in my life was that I would be thought of a commentator of any kind.
Is there a particular project sitting out there that no one would expect of you that you are working towards? If so, can you share a bit about it?
Well, I have a play that I have been working on for a few years that is sitting on my computer half done, and mostly not good enough yet, but it's there. Hopefully, it will see the light-of-day one day. I also will sometimes paint, and I'm not so bad, but I need to be stoned to get in the mood.
What is the most important element that you bring to your work? And why?
I have no idea. Perhaps, trying to find the humanity in every character; trying to reveal something that is surprising; something that bonds us all together, but that may all be nonsense. I think it’s a tough question for an artist of any kind to be able to look at their work as a critic or an analyst. That’s for other people to determine.
You use comedy to raise awareness about social concerns? Does this ever become difficult for you? And if so, when?
I talk about things that I want to talk about -- that are interesting to me. I don't actually think about social awareness. That’s a side effect of talking about being an immigrant...or a Muslim...or being brown in America. I am attempting to speak my truth and things that I care about. These days, those things seem to conflate with a certain amount of social and political activism.
What disheartens you most about the United States today? Alternately, what gives you the most hope?
What disheartens me is that many Americans believe that facts and science are the enemy. We seek out that which we already choose to believe and have it re-affirmed to us. That goes for all sides of the political spectrum. What gives me hope is that there is probably life on other planets.
You have many talents? What is one thing you absolutely can't do that you refuse to give up on?
Singing “Too Much Heaven” by the Bee Gee's at Karaoke
Share a social cause or cause-based organization close to your heart.
Anything to do with children.
When all is said and done, how would you like to be remembered?
"You'll come for the atmosphere, but you'll stay for the food."
No, the man can’t be accused of being a ghost on the topic of Muslim-life in the United States. He won’t hide away in the darkness. Nor will he stop rattling chains to appease those who disagree with him. After all, “Many a truth is said in jest.” So why not use his natural inclination, obvious appeal, and undeniable gift to help get at it for the benefit of all? Frankly, the entire nation needs a good laugh, presently. Much more discourse and pressure, and we might, actually, become a Ghost Town.
Many thanks to Aasif Mandvi and Sweet 180 for making this interview possible