Aasif Mandvi sat down with The Creative Coalition CEO Robin Bronk in the latest episode of “At Home With The Creative Coalition,” a podcast featuring unplugged and uncensored conversations with today’s biggest stars. In the newest episode, Mandvi opens up about some tricks of the trade he picked up working with Jon Stewart and the staff at ‘The Daily Show,’ meeting Bruce Springsteen backstage after his first appearance as a correspondent, turning down a Disney audition because of one line in the script, the advice Stephen Colbert gave him, and much more. Highlights below.
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Highlights from “At Home With The Creative Coalition” featuring Aasif Mandvi —
On meeting Bruce Springsteen after his first appearance on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart:
“I’m on the show, and I go out to rehearse, and I look out in the audience — and when we did ‘The Daily Show,’ we’d rehearse and there’d be a few writers and producers in the audience sort of laughing at their own jokes, a lot — I look out there and there’s a guy wearing a baseball cap with his teenage son next to him. And I’m sort of looking at the guy and staring at him, and I’m like, ‘Wait, is that Bruce Springsteen?’ And it was Bruce Springsteen! He had just come down — he was in the city, he was a fan of the show, and he knew Jon, and so he just came by to see the show. And so he’s sitting in the audience! So I go out to do my first ever ‘Daily Show’ — it was August 9, 2006 — and I’m having this life-altering moment, which I didn’t know it was life-altering at that moment but it was going to be a life-altering moment, and Bruce Springsteen was sitting in the audience. And then after the show, I come backstage… and then Bruce Springsteen walks up to me, and he’s like, ‘Hey, you were really good, heard it was your first time, man.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, you’re good…too?’”
On what it was like working with the staff on “The Daily Show”:
“It was like a bubble. It was like you were inside this creative — like, there were all these really smart, funny talented people — and you were just in this building with them. The first year I was there, I was basically just like, ‘I shouldn’t be here. I don’t know what I’m doing.’ Because I didn’t come from the same pedigree in terms of stand-up… I sort of came from theater and acting. Everybody had gone to Princeton and Yale and Harvard and Brown and I was like, ‘USF, represent! Right here! USF! Didn’t graduate, right here! Right here!’ And I thought, ‘Oh my God, what am I doing here?’ And for that first year or so, I think I just felt like a complete impostor. And it was really just Jon who believed in me and just thought that I was good. And he liked the fact that I was an actor and that I brought that, and that I wasn’t a traditional comedy guy. But then I just started to absorb what I could and learn. And it really was like for me, again, it was another grad school. Because, for me, it was all about how I just got to work with some of the funniest comedy writers and the funniest people in the business, and I was kind of like, ‘Let me just learn everything I can about this.’ And it’s a weird job, ‘The Daily Show,’ because you can’t use it anywhere else. Like, you can’t use that. But I actually ended up becoming very skilled at doing those interviews and that type of thing… Like I said, another grad school. It was kind of, like, learning from these really funny people, who I still keep in touch with, a lot of writers and producers from the show. And they are, they’re some of the smartest people in the business.”
On some things people don’t know about “The Daily Show”:
“The research department is remarkable, and there’s one particular guy — and I’m not going to say his name, I don’t want to out him (not in a bad way, this is a good thing) — he remembers everything, and he’s almost like a person who you can go to and be like, ‘George Bush said this. Was there ever a time that he said something exactly the opposite?’ And he can find it. And it was this one human being who would often be the person that you would go to for that information, and it was like this weird secret sauce that ‘The Daily Show’ had. This person who just had this incredible memory and capacity… Besides him, they also had a team of people who were remarkable in terms of how they would access — ‘The Daily Show’ was the first place that ever did that thing, where they would have George Bush say something then have him say the exact opposite, have him debate himself. And then, of course, the other news outlets all picked that up and now it’s a very common technique, but we at the time were the first people that did that. And just the tricks of being a ‘Daily Show’ correspondent. One of the things that Stephen Colbert told me when I became a correspondent was, ‘Allow yourself to sit in the silence when you’re interviewing people. And they will often fill that silence with the truth, and the truth is often what they don’t want to actually be saying, and what their lawyers don’t want them to say.’ And then just the idea that if you put a camera in someone’s face, I remember he said, ‘They get a lobotomy.’ Especially if they’re not expecting to be interviewed and you catch somebody in a moment, they will often just tell you exactly what it is, if they’re caught off-guard.”
On his first time turning down an audition:
“I had an audition for this movie called ‘Hidalgo,’ which is a Disney movie starring Viggo Mortensen. And I was on Broadway at the time, and they sent me this script. And this was 2002 at the time, so we had just gone into Iraq, and America was literally in Iraq at the time, killing Iraqis. And this movie came out — it was set in the Wild West, it was about a guy who goes to Saudi Arabia and rides his American mustang horse against the Arabian horses in this desert race. And there was a line in this that said, ‘Go kick some Arab ass, cowboy.’ I don’t know if it ended up in the movie or not, but based on that line, I was like, ‘I can’t do this movie.’ And it was a really big moment for me because I had never turned down an audition before. I had never thought about it. And I just remember thinking, ‘This could be a huge movie. This could be, you know, a big Disney movie.’ And I thought, ‘Oh man, I wish it didn’t have this line in there.’ Because I might be able to justify everything else to myself, but I couldn’t justify a line — at that moment in our history — that said, ‘Go kick some Arab ass, cowboy.’”
On having a greater sense of responsibility to represent for his race or ethnicity than his white actor counterparts:
“I often felt like my white actor friends didn’t ever have to really deal with this in the same way, because they weren’t asked. Because there were so few of us, at a certain point, it became important for us to represent in some way. And African-American actors talk about this sometimes, this kind of feeling of, like, there’s not enough of our stories being told and there’s not enough of us out there, so whenever one of us is out there, we are representing in some way. And so, that burden, sometimes I resented that I had to carry that burden that my white friends didn’t have to carry. They would just go do a part, and if it was a stupid character, it was a stupid character. But whereas, like, if I did a character, it was like, ‘Why would you play something like that?’ And you’re torn, because as an artist you shouldn’t have to worry about that. As an artist, you should be able to tell any story and embody any character. But it was a concern, and so I’d often have conversations with directors and things where I was like, ‘Does he have to have an accent? Does it make sense for him to have an accent? Why does he have an accent?’”
More about “At Home With The Creative Coalition”
Hosted by The Creative Coalition CEO Robin Bronk, “At Home With The Creative Coalition” brings listeners intimate portraits, key moments of discovery, and “art and soul” conversations with iconic entertainment industry personalities from the big screen to the boardroom, from L.A. to D.C. Listen now at http://thecreativecoalition.org/podcast.
Upcoming guests include Justin Bartha (“The Hangover,” “National Treasure”), Kerry Ehrin (“The Morning Show”), Evan Handler (“And Just Like That…,” “Californication”), Cheryl Hines (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), New York Times Bestselling Author Susan Isaacs (“Compromising Positions”), Rachel Mason (“Circus of Books”), International Bestselling Author Patrick McGinnis (“The 10% Entrepreneur,” “Fear of Missing Out”), Ken Olin (“This is Us,” “Thirtysomething”), Joe Pantoliano (“The Sopranos,” “The Matrix”), Yolonda Ross (“The Chi”), Reid Scott (“Echo”), and Alena Smith (“Dickinson”).
Previous guests include Jason Alexander (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Shiri Appleby (“UnREAL”), David Alan Basche (“The Exes”), Asante Blackk (“This Is Us”), Carly Chaikin (“Mr. Robot”), Wilson Cruz (“Star Trek: Discovery”), Alan Cumming (“Briarpatch”), Ethan Cutkosky (“Shameless”), The Creative Coalition President and actor Tim Daly (“Madam Secretary”), Lea DeLaria (“Orange Is the New Black”), Griffin Dunne (“This Is Us”), Michael Fishman (“Roseanne,” “The Conners”), Jim Gaffigan (“The Jim Gaffigan Show”), Willie Garson (“And Just Like That…”), Judy Gold (“The Other F Word”), Nicholas Gonzalez (“The Good Doctor”), Clark Gregg (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”), Tony Hale (“Veep,” “Arrested Development”), Patricia Heaton (“Everybody Loves Raymond,” “The Middle”), Jon Huertas (“This Is Us,” “Castle”), Jason Isaacs (“Star Trek: Discovery”), Richard Kind (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Chad Lowe (“Supergirl”), Marlee Matlin (“CODA,” “The West Wing”), AnnaLynne McCord (“Let’s Get Physical”), Eric McCormack (“Will and Grace”), Wendi McLendon-Covey (“The Goldbergs”), Katherine McNamara (“Shadowhunters”), Marta Milans (“Shazam!”), Rob Morrow (“Billions”), Kathy Najimy (“Duncanville”), Haley Joel Osment (“Future Man,” “Entourage”), Bill Prady (“The Big Bang Theory”), Jessica Queller (“Supergirl”), Anthony Rapp (“Rent”), Mona Scott-Young (“Love & Hip Hop”), Julie Taymor (“The Lion King”), Krista Vernoff (“Grey’s Anatomy”), Matt Walsh (“Veep”), Alfre Woodard (“Clemency,” “Luke Cage”), Constance Zimmer (“Good Trouble”), and David Zucker (“Airplane!,” “Scary Movie”).
More about The Creative Coalition
The Creative Coalition is the premier nonprofit, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) social and public advocacy organization of the arts and entertainment community. Founded in 1989 by prominent members of the creative community, The Creative Coalition is dedicated to educating, mobilizing, and activating its members on issues of public importance. Actor Tim Daly serves as the organization’s President. The Creative Coalition also creates award-winning public service campaigns including #RightToBearArts to promote the efficacy of the arts. The Creative Coalition harnesses the unique platforms of the arts community and entertainment industry to make positive impacts on social welfare issues. For more information, visit https://thecreativecoalition.org.