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Aasif Mandvi On Bigotry, Satire, And Growing Up An Immigrant In America

The Daily Show star came by the BuzzFeed offices to talk about his work combating anti-Muslim bias.

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Aasif Mandvi, a Daily Show correspondent who has also appeared in movies like Million Dollar Arm and Today's Special, recently visited the the BuzzFeed offices to talk anti-Muslim bias in America. This year, he successfully crowdsourced Halal in the Family, a sitcom satire based around an American Muslim family, and premiered it on Funny or Die. These are just a few of the hilarious things he said about being Muslim in America.

On his satirical Funny or Die show, Halal in the Family:

The family themselves are an all-American family who happen to be Muslim. Obviously, it's heightened. It's not a real family (and Halal in the Family) is a parody of a sitcom. Sometimes people watch it and think, They're trying to portray a real Muslim family. We're not. We're actually trying to portray a slightly cartooned version of an American Muslim family for the purposes of highlighting and putting a spotlight on the absurdity of the prejudices. Because the characters are trying so hard to NOT be scary to white America.
David Bertozzi / BuzzFeed

The family themselves are an all-American family who happen to be Muslim. Obviously, it's heightened. It's not a real family (and Halal in the Family) is a parody of a sitcom. Sometimes people watch it and think, They're trying to portray a real Muslim family. We're not. We're actually trying to portray a slightly cartooned version of an American Muslim family for the purposes of highlighting and putting a spotlight on the absurdity of the prejudices. Because the characters are trying so hard to NOT be scary to white America.

On what his team learned from consulting with Muslim advocacy groups:

We worked with some Muslim advocacy groups (for Halal in the Family). They were very helpful. They gave us a lot of great information when we worked on the show. For example, to use the term "American Muslim" instead of "Muslim Americans." It's a psychological thing — put the word "American" first. And don't use the word "Islamophobia," use "anti-Muslim bias" or "bigotry," which is more correct.

On growing up Muslim:

When I was a kid, most Americans didn't know what a Muslim was. They thought Muslim was a type of cloth. Now, Americans know what Muslims are and they're very afraid of Muslims. And they're also afraid of muslin, which is a weird thing.

David Bertozzi / BuzzFeed

On how things have changed after 9/11:

After 9/11, Americans were much more curious about ... "What are these Muslims?" "What is this thing called Islam?" "Who is this person 'Qur'an'?" I think now what has happened is that the answer has been given by the media and the government. This conversation has been hijacked and what Americans are being told is that they should be afraid of Muslims. Things like the implementation of Sharia law, which could never happen in America, and yet a large percentage of Americans think that Sharia law is going to take over America.

David Bertozzi / BuzzFeed

On the term GIF:

It's interesting that the word GIF... what does it mean?

(David chimes in with the definition.)

Well! It also means "Grandma I'd Like to Fuck!" Doesn't it?

Oh. That's GILF. Sorry, my bad.

On the differences between being an immigrant in America and Britain:

I grew up in the U.K. And so in the U.K., it doesn't matter how long you've been there, you are never gonna be British, really. In America, what I found, which was really interesting and great in a way, [was that] as soon as you got here, you were accepted into the tapestry of Americana, like, "You are now American." The problem with that is Americans have very little knowledge and understanding of other cultures. People didn't really know what a Muslim was. Or if India was part of Saudi Arabia. Americans didnt know. But it didn't matter. Because you were just American. You pledged allegiance to the flag, and you were American. Americans think about the rest of the world the way New Yorkers think about the rest of America. They don't.
David Bertozzi / BuzzFeed

I grew up in the U.K. And so in the U.K., it doesn't matter how long you've been there, you are never gonna be British, really. In America, what I found, which was really interesting and great in a way, [was that] as soon as you got here, you were accepted into the tapestry of Americana, like, "You are now American."

The problem with that is Americans have very little knowledge and understanding of other cultures. People didn't really know what a Muslim was. Or if India was part of Saudi Arabia. Americans didnt know. But it didn't matter. Because you were just American. You pledged allegiance to the flag, and you were American.

Americans think about the rest of the world the way New Yorkers think about the rest of America. They don't.

On making it in the industry;

If you want to go into show business, just suck at everything else. Because if you do, you have no choice, which is what I did. I was just terrible at every other subject except drama and English. Show business was the only place I could really go. I think my parents realized very soon, "He's not going to medical or law school, this guy." That was a sad day for them, but I think they eventually accepted it. And now they're very proud and happy.

On his parents:

Most of my family is very excited and supportive of the project. They're very excited that I'm doing what I'm doing. It wasn't always that way. As most immigrant parents are wont to do, they were suspicious and dubious of the whole thing for a long time. Now they're happy for my success. Now they just want grandkids. At the end of the day, they're Indian parents. What're you going to do?

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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