On Wednesday night, comic and regular Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi took the podium at the 2015 Radio and Television Correspondents Association Dinner and basically breathed fire over the room like he was a comedic Drogon. By the time he was done, 22 minutes later, very few had been spared.
Mandvi’s keynote set was blistering and, unsurprisingly, didn’t always go over well with an audience full of self-important broadcasters. He mocked Congressional Republicans’ love for Benjamin Netanyahu, consummated by way of the Israeli prime minister’s recent address before Congress. “It took a black president to make Republicans finally wish for a Jewish one,” he cracked. He hit CNN, saying that if CSPAN — which covered the event — wants to increase its ratings, it should “be more like CNN and just forget about the news.” He wrote off America’s tepid interest in daily politics overall, saying, “The only way we are gonna care about the budget is if the budget suddenly mysteriously disappeared. Then you create a budget simulator, you get Richard Quest on a panel — you put me right in the middle of the non-action.” Wolf Blitzer responded to the taunts with a wan smile. “Or you could go the Fox News route,” Mandvi continued. “You get the budget to shoot an unarmed black kid and then rush to the budget’s defense. Arguing that the budget was written on white paper and that’s why this is happening.”
Maybe best of all, he turned the crowd’s occasionally cool reaction into its own bit, joking, “Look, I don’t care how this goes tonight, because tomorrow it’s going to say ‘Muslim Bombs’ or ‘Muslim Kills… It’s bad for me either way.” That set up an extended riff on being Muslim in America and the ways that even he’s fallen prey to some of the suspicions Americans have of Muslims. “I see a white person with a beard, I want to buy his artisanal honey,” he said. “I see a Muslim person with a beard, I’m hoping he’s getting pulled out of line at JFK.” He went on to joke about the pranks he says he sometimes plays on people who think he might be dangerous. “I figure if people don’t want to make the distinction between a Muslim and a terrorist then why should I make a distinction between good, scared white people and racists?”
Finally, he wrapped the whole thing up with one last message for those in attendance. “I know that you might feel like the Congressional dinner is the junior varsity of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner,” he said. “But I don’t want you to fret, because there’s hope for you yet. I want you to remember the words of our president from last year when he said ISIS was the junior varsity of Al Qaeda. And look how well they’re doing now! Remember Congressional correspondents, if ISIS can do it, so can you.”
While Aasif Mandvi’s routine wasn’t as dead-on as, say, Stephen Colbert’s now-legendary speech at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner — which turned into a vicious roast of George W. Bush, with an unamused Bush sitting less than six feet away from him — his unwillingness to suffer the pompous fools of the political media displayed his well-honed Daily Show chops. Mandvi’s always been one of Daily‘s funniest and most potent voices, so it’s surprising very few people seem to have mentioned his name as a possible replacement for Jon Stewart, who announced back in February that he’d soon be stepping down as the show’s host. Mandvi’s more than proven his worth in the eight years he’s been on The Daily Show, and while his brand of comedy certainly lines up more with Colbert’s than Stewart’s — his shtick is often the straight man whose smile or feigned confusion is used to hide both his outrage and smart-ass attitude — but going with someone who’s strictly meant to be a continuation of Stewart’s own personality would be suicide for the show.
Mandvi has done some of Daily‘s very best bits, including his dissection of the lie that America has the “best healthcare system in the world.” (He flew a team that usually treats sick people in remote regions of Africa and South America into Tennessee.) He created “The Qu’osby Show” as a way of changing Americans’ minds about Muslims. His bit on “caucasian terrorists” in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing and his story on a planned Islamic community center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee were slyly powerful. And his scathing take-down of Fox News’s fraudulent claim that there were Muslim “no-go zones” in America and his report on voter suppression where he got a guy to admit on the air that he’s racist were both essential viewing.
There are a lot of great candidates for the Daily Show desk that people have mentioned. Aasif Mandvi deserves to be high on the list.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.