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Mandvi embraces his Muslim background

USF alumnus Aasif Mandvi is Muslim – a religion he is not afraid to poke fun at.

Mandvi, who introduced himself as the “brown” correspondent on Comedy Central’s fake news broadcast “The Daily Show,” provided the semester’s final University Lecture Series event in the Marshall Student Center Ballroom on Thursday – a lecture he titled “Behind the Scenes of the Real Fake News,” or “The Muslim Correspondent.”

“It’s hilarious to me,” he said. “I am the last person who should be representing Islam in any way. I’m the guy (with) a pork rib in one hand, a beer in the other and I’m f—— a Russian model.”

Mandvi, who left USF in 1989 to live in New York and strive for his career, said he landed his high profile job during his first audition by charming the show’s host, Jon Stewart.

“Jon hired me right there, at that moment,” he said. “Then, it was crazy; it was contracts and signing stuff.”

Mandvi’s lecture was interlaced with jokes he performed on “The Daily Show” and videos of his “field pieces” – a part of the show where correspondents go out to interview regular people who are engaged in unintentionally comedic pursuits, he said.

Before his first field assignment, Mandvi said he was “very nervous.” To help calm his nerves, producers sent him to meet with former “Daily Show” correspondent and current star of “The Colbert Report” Stephen Colbert.

“(Colbert) said there are three things you have to remember when you go out to do a field piece,” Mandvi said. “Find what is funny about the piece that makes you laugh – find five things that make you laugh. Second of all, don’t be afraid of the silence and third, remember that when you put a camera in someone’s face, they get a lobotomy. And that proved to be truer than I ever thought possible.”

For his first field piece, Mandvi said he went to the University of Illinois to interview a student who was lobbying to reinstate former school mascot Chief Illiniwek – a Sioux Indian in a traditional head dress who was removed for portraying a “race-based stereotype.”

“I said to (the student) in the interview, ‘On a scale of one to five, one being ‘I hate Native Americans’ and five being ‘I hate Native Americans,’ where do you fall?'” Mandvi said. “And he looked me dead in the face and he said, ‘Uh, like a three?’ and I literally p—– in my pants.”

Mandvi said what had happened in that moment is something referred to around “The Daily Show” offices as ‘Chicken-F——.”

“Sometimes, when you actually ask someone … the same question five, six, seven times, or you sit in silence with the person and let them stew in their own silence, eventually they will say the thing that they, not their lawyers, want them to say. And usually it is something like ‘Yes, I f—– the chicken’,” he said. “Once you have the ‘I f—– the chicken’ moment, your piece is done. You build your piece around that moment. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll get three or four of those moments.”

It was the promise of insights and advice like this that made Joe Montalto, a freshman majoring in theater performance, attend the lecture.

“Most of the things (Mandvi) said made the show make a lot more sense,” he said. “Before that, I had no idea that they do rehearsals at 4:30 a.m., and they write the show at noon, and all those things that go into the making of the show.”

Ayo Harrell, a junior majoring in theater performance, said the lecture provided her a rare and possibly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Mandvi because “The Daily Show” is taped in New York City.

“I watch it every day. That’s why I came out because I really love his work,” she said.