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Aasif Mandvi: He's Out To Ruin Your Life

Claire Spera |
September 24, 2009 | 1:13 p.m. PDT


USC students learn the trade of a Daily Show correspondent from Aasif Mandvi.
(Comedy Central)

When I heard USC Spectrum was bringing comedian Aasif Mandvi to Bovard Auditorium to speak, I immediately got my ticket. Best known for his work as a fictional news correspondent on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," Mandvi is the self-proclaimed token "brown man" on TV who dares to ask the questions no one else will. "The Daily Show" recently won its seventh consecutive Emmy, and Mandvi wasn't about to let us forget it.

"We can do whatever we want," Mandvi joked, adding that if anyone in the audience was planning on stealing a car in the near future, all they have to do is say: "I'm with 'The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,'" and those car keys will be handed directly over. "My friends use me to get into clubs," he said matter-of-factly.

Mandvi started on "The Daily Show" in August 2006. "For all the freshmen, that's before the iPhone, when grandma was on MySpace, before Twitter," he said. In contrast to his TV personality, who dons suits and ties and keeps up a serious façade while asking the most ridiculous questions, the Mandvi in Bovard resembled a college student in jeans and a t-shirt.

Mandvi took us through a day in the life of a "Daily Show" correspondent. "I wake up and see if Osama has released another tape. If he has, I get to work. If he hasn't, I go get a massage," Mandvi explained. By 2 p.m. every day, the cast and crew of "The Daily Show" have an episode, and at 4 p.m. they do a run-through before the 6 p.m. taping in front of a live studio audience.

The real fun, Mandvi said, is in doing the field reporting assignments. He has traveled the country, tracking stories about illegal immigration, "racist" Native American sports mascots and, generally, the plight of minorities in America. In 2008, he probed politicians at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, and he even went to Iran just before the election chaos there ensued. In his next international piece, he is hoping to return to India, his country of birth; it's our duty to write to "The Daily Show" and request that Mandvi be allowed to do a segment in India, he emphasized.

Mandvi's talent lies in "getting people to say the things that are going to destroy their lives," whether it be an admission from a politician that putting alligators in the Rio Grande to deter illegal immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border is a good idea, or catching music artist Akon on tape admitting blacks will be "left out in the cold because of global warming." Mandvi says he learned his tricks of the trade from the master, Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," who used to be a correspondent on "The Daily Show." Colbert's advice? "Use the silence," Mandvi repeated to us. When Mandvi asks a question, at first interviewees will give a typical, well-prepared answer; but if he remains silent once they've finished their spiel, they'll feel the need to continue talking, until "eventually they say what they wish they hadn't."

In addition to playing clips that made it on air, Mandvi showed us some pieces from 2007's Live Earth global warming awareness concert in New Jersey that didn't make the final cut. Akon, after enduring some awkward silences on Mandvi's part, explained that he didn't know what he was doing at the concert because he didn't really know what global warming is. Mandvi, playing along, struck up a camaraderie with the rapper when he said he didn't "get" global warming either -- and through it all, he maintained a straight face. How many people can do that?



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