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Aasif Mandvi’s Brief But Spectacular take on staying true to himself

Transcript

Judy Woodruff: Writer and performer Aasif Mandvi has moved his way through the entertainment industry, with memorable stops at "The Daily Show" and on Broadway.

In tonight's Brief But Spectacular, he talks about navigating his career, while staying true to himself.

Mandvi is currently starring in the CBS series "Evil," which will begin its second season later this year.

Aasif Mandvi: When a casting director or a director or somebody in a movie or television show asks you, as a South Asian actor, to talk like this, so, like, me and my friend Sakina Jaffrey would make fun of that and we'd call it patanking, which is like -- because, to the white ear, it sounds like, patank, patank, patank, patank, right?

And that's insulting, and I'm going to stop doing it.

But the point is that we would get asked to do that a lot. You try to find a reason not to patank. Like, you would try to be like, well, it says the character grew up in Milwaukee, so I don't know why. And they'd be like, yes, but it's funnier that way.

So, when I got called to audition for "The Daily Show," it was one of those weird days. I started the day off writing a letter to my ex-girlfriend, because I found out that she'd gotten engaged, and I was really depressed about it.

I got a phone call, and it was my manager saying, "The Daily Show" wants you to audition.

First of all, I was having a miserable day. Second of all, I thought "The Daily Show" was so far beneath me, because I was like a trained actor. I'd studied Chekhov, and Ibsen, and Shakespeare.

And so I walk in, and there's Jon Stewart. And he's really nice.

And he says to me: "Have you ever performed in front of a live audience before?"

And I just looked at him with this contempt. And I said: "Dude, I have been on Broadway."

And he was like: "Oh, OK, Mr. Broadway. All right, here we go."

So I basically just did an impression of Stephen Colbert.

Jon hired me right there in that moment. And then I was on that night, on the show.

Mostly, I played a lot of the Middle East correspondent, Muslim correspondent, brown correspondent, Indian correspondent. Before 9/11, I was Muslim, in the sense that my family was Muslim and I came from that background, but it was just my religious identity, and most Americans couldn't tell the difference between Muslim and muslin.

After 9/11, then Americans started learning, oh, there are these Muslims out there, and they're terrifying people, and they're out to get us. And so then I really realized, like, oh, my God, suddenly, now I'm associated with this religion that people have no knowledge of or very little knowledge of, and are demonizing.

And so I pretended to be Jewish.

Having that platform, and being sort of able to talk about America from the perspective of a Muslim American was kind of new, because there was so much fear-mongering, as there is today. I'm acting like this is something in the past, when it's actually even more today than it was after 9/11.

For me, ultimately, I see myself as a storyteller. And there are still stories that I want to tell that I feel like are not being told in the mainstream culture, and about people who we don't see represented in the mainstream culture as much.

So, as an actor and as a writer of color, as somebody who's an immigrant, there are stories that I still want to tell, and that's really what excites me about the future.

My name is Aasif Mandvi, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on my story so far.

Judy Woodruff: And you can find all of our Brief But Spectacular segments online at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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