'Daily Show's' Mandvi to bring his outsider status to Central Illinois

2010-04-08T07:00:00Z 'Daily Show's' Mandvi to bring his outsider status to Central IllinoisBy Dan Craft | dcraft@pantagraph.com pantagraph.com
April 08, 2010 7:00 am  • 

Some people know Aasif Mandvi as the shrink who diagnosed Robert De Niro's panic attacks in "Analyze This."

Others fondly recall him as Peter Parker's employer, Mr. Aziz, at Joe's Pizza in "Spider-Man 2" (or in the spin-off Domino's Pizza commercial it inspired).

Still others may peg him as Sandra Bullock's office cohort Bob Spaulding in the recent box office hit, "The Proposal."

But for those of us bound to our couches from day to day, he is Aasif ("Ah-siff") Mandvi, one of the roving correspondents of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," that nightly skewering of current events deep into its 14th year.

While many of his fellow rovers, including Samantha "Sam" Bee, Jason Jones and John Oliver, are indistinguishably Caucasian, the Mumbai-born Mandvi is there to pull ethnic duty.

Proudly. Frankly. Blatantly.

His billing, in fact: "Senior Foreign-Looking Correspondent."

That seniority will be in full force as Mandvi roves his way to Illinois State University to form the centerpiece of an Indian cultural celebration Monday night in the Bone Student Center's Brown Ballroom.

Featuring a complete Indian dinner and live music from B-N's own Bollywood specialists, Shunya, the evening will be dominated by Mandvi's presence as one of the select Indian performers who've entered the American mainstream.

Taking a recent break from "The Daily Show's" globe-hopping fast track, Mandvi distinguishes the fine line between a "contributing correspondent," which is what he was hired as in 2006, and a "full correspondent," which is what he became a year later.

"As a full correspondent, they basically control ALL of my movements now," he begins.

It gets better: "Plus, they gave me an office and I get a free lunch each day."

Oh, and then there's that little matter of: "I also have to be available every day," which, when you're just a contributor, isn't a priority. "And like any good daily worker, now I get to be taken for granted."

But what a way to be taken for granted -- as one of the key players in the hippest news show in the room.

It's also one that some have alleged serves as the main news provider for a sizable chunk of young America.

"People are still saying that," says Mandvi, born 44 years ago in Bombay, then reared to adolescence in England, then transplanted stateside at 16.

"I don't recommend it. I mean, I'd rather you would watch the real news sometimes, too. But even when you watch the real news, at the end of the day, it's all about being entertainment."

Mandvi adds, "That's my frustration as a citizen -- all I'm watching is entertainment, and where is the news?"

It is definitely there on "The Daily Show," even if it is being subjected to trenchant satire by

Stewart and that trusty "Senior Foreign-Looking Correspondent" -- the one who's just right

for breaking the latest "furrin'" dispatches

certain to send a chill down Middle America's spine.

So: "Yeah, I do sometimes watch our show to get the news myself," he confesses.

For a guy whose performing career began at age 7 clad in tights and a bonnet (the occasion: pulling pixie duty in a school play), the journey from Bombay to senior foreignness has been an intriguing one, to say the least.

"It was never something I envisioned," he admits. "I come from a much more traditional theater background. I have never thought of myself as a journalist. That's a whole 'nother thing, and they don't teach it to you at drama school."

When Mandvi's family moved to Tampa, Fla., in the '70s, his theater longings sent him on the Florida theme park circuit, including a stint at Disney World (of course).

From Disney to "Daily" may seem like a surreal leap of both faith and performance aesthetics.

But Mandvi credits the guerrilla street theater performance style he honed on theme park curbs with paving the way to where he is now.

As a result, he can effortlessly carom from deadpan "Daily Show" dispatches to wide-ranging movie/TV acting gigs (they include, imminently, a key role in "Sixth Sense" director and fellow Indian native M. Night Shyamalan's latest, "The Last Airbender," opening this summer).

In his "Daily News" role, Mandvi says he knows the score, per his ethnic moorings, and is more than happy to help tally it when duty calls.

News-wise, there'll always be someone in the wings ready to keep Mandvi on his toes, a la notorious Fox commentator Glenn Beck, who last December made the sensitive comment, "You know that one big river they have there (India)? That sounds like a disease. Come on, it does!"

Needless to say, Stewart and his Senior Foreign-Looking Correspondent didn't let that one slide by unnoticed, or unskewered, with both men having a field day, culminating in Stewart's now-legendary, show-long Beck parody.

"I get to be on the fence between cultures," Mandvi says.

"I'm a product of immigration and that's the story of my life -- I've always been an outsider. So it makes sense that that's actually the purpose of my position on the show."

The Mandvi report

Globetrotting I: Born March 5, 1966, in Mumbai, India

Globetrotting II: Moved to Bradford, England, while still in single digits

Globetrotting III: Moved to Tampa, Fla., at 16

World traveler, too: Became a street entertainer at Disney World

Boyhood idol: Omar Sharif in "Doctor Zhivago"

Movie debut: "Die Hard with a Vengeance"

One-man Mandvi: Wrote and starred in the critically hailed off-Broadway play, "Sakina's Restaurant"

Rock man Mandvi: Played guitar in the New York band Cowboys and Indian

Musical man Manvi: Played Ali Hakim in the 2002 Broadway revival of "Oklahoma!"

Ad man Mandvi: Starred in popular commercials for Domino's Pizza and Honey Nut Cheerios

Other movies: "Eddie," "Analyze This," "Spider-Man 2," "Freedomland," "Music & Lyrics," "Ghost Town," "The Proposal"

Mandvi highlight of Indian dinner

NORMAL -- Aasif Mandvi's performance Monday night at Illinois State University is part of the University Housing Service's annual Indian Cultural Dinner.

The evening is open to the public, and starts at 5 p.m. with an authentic Indian dinner prepared by ISU's Campus Dining Services.

Accompanying the meal will be the Bloomington-based Indian band, Shunya, which specializes in traditional Indian music in a variety of styles, as well as themes from the Indian movie musical nicknamed Bollywood.

Following the meal, Mandvi will take center stage. Describing himself as a comic actor, "not a stand-up comedian," his performance resembles more a one-man show, covering aspects of his own life as well as offering an insider's view of "The Daily Show."

"It's about my journey, of how I go to where am I now," he says.

Tickets are $15.25 for the public and $12 for ISU students, faculty and staff without a meal plan. Call 309-438-8883 for more information.

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