Sometimes, the news can be depressing. Other times, it can be uplifting and amusing. And then there are times when the news can be downright twisted, especially if The Daily Show gets its hands on it.
But what goes into making one of the world’s most popular news satire show? Aasif Mandvi was on campus Wednesday to tell USC how the show runs.
Billed as “Life on The Daily Show,” the event did not disappoint. In front of a packed house at Bovard Auditorium, Mandvi, the show’s senior Middle East correspondent, strolled across the stage poking fun at himself, his job and, occasionally, the audience.
“I’m here tonight to give you a little lecture that I call behind the scenes of the real fake news, aka how to [screw] with people and make them look stupid,” he said.
Trained in theater, Mandvi has acted in numerous plays and films, including his two-time Obie award-winning one-man act Sakina’s Restaurant. Despite his obvious success as an actor and comedian, Mandvi was quick to mock his notoriety on The Daily Show.
“I am the brown guy on The Daily Show,” Mandvi said. “Unless you’re homeless, of course, then I’m the guy who fired Spiderman. More homeless people come up to me and are pissed off about the fact that I fired Spiderman than any other demographic.”
Before he delved into his comedy, Mandvi addressed some of the common questions about The Daily Show.
“Let me get to the obvious questions first that people always ask me: Yes, those people that we interview really do see that [stuff] they say,” Mandvi said. “Jon Stewart is a very short man, and Rob Riggle is a she-male.”
Mandvi spoke of his own experiences working on the show instead of simply giving a play-by-play of the show’s daily filming process. This gave the event a more personal perspective, and Mandvi came across as a relatable and easygoing figure rather than an arrogant television personality. His friendly air and quick wit kept the audience entertained, even when he discussed trivial things such as walking around Minneapolis with his parents at the Republican National Convention.
One of the most intriguing elements of the evening was hearing about what goes into producing the show’s field pieces.
“A field piece requires a whole different skill set,” Mandvi explained. “It basically requires us going out into the world and leaving our souls behind… taking innocent people with kids, wives, husbands, friends and family, and completely just [screwing] up their lives. We do this very well.”
Mandvi even passed along a bit of advice from former correspondent Stephen Colbert.
“Look for the ‘[screw] the chicken moment,’” he said, defining the moment in an interview where the guests will say something that embarrasses them and exposes the absurdity of their argument.
A constant theme throughout the show was Mandvi’s ethnicity and how it plays into the segments he does. Rather than shy away from the issue, he acknowledged the role his race plays, and the stereotypes of Indians in the media.
“I started on The Daily Show in 2006… For all you freshmen, that was before the iPhone,” Mandvi joked, before going into more serious detail. “I got this call from The Daily Show basically saying they would like me to come down. They were looking for a Middle East correspondent. Initially I said ‘No, I won’t do that.’ As a brown actor who’s done Ibsen, Chekhov and Shakespeare, I knew that this day would end up with me wearing a turban, sitting crossed legged on a carpet, pretending to fly.”
Instead of making the event about negative stereotypes and racism, Mandvi took a positive approach, explaining how his race allows him to provide a unique perspective on the show. For a comedian on a fake news show, his understanding and levity on the subject displayed a rather unexpected level of wisdom.
Near the end of the show, Mandvi opened up the floor for audience questions. Mandvi verbally played with the crowd, giving some wonderfully snarky one-liners at students who hesitated with their questions.
“Who’s your favorite journalist to make fun of?” one student asked. “I ask because I’m journalism major.”
“Well, I’ll just make fun of you,” Mandvi replied.
With his casual demeanor and sharp wit, Mandvi had the audience rippling with laughter. His act never came across as a forced series of jokes, but instead felt like a friendly conversation over a few drinks.
When it comes to Mandvi and The Daily Show, things seem to be going very well for them. Between the Emmy wins earlier this week and Mandvi’s enthusiasm for what is to come in the future, the show seems more popular, successful and humorous then ever.