While he may be best known for his satirical appearances on "The Daily Show" (Comedy Central, 1996- ), Aasif Mandvi has also built a strong career as a film and stage actor. Attention first came his way thanks to a one-man show, "Sakina's Restaurant," which premiered off-Broadway in 1998, ultimately earning him an OBIE Award. When he began his stint as a guest correspondent on "The Daily Show," Mandvi showed off a wry comic delivery that has since become one of his trademarks on the program. Despite being an Indian-born Muslim, and therefore one of the least-frequently represented ethnic groups in Hollywood, Mandvi has carved out a place for himself as a versatile supporting player in both mainstream and independent projects.
Born Aasif Mandviwala in Bombay, India, he moved with his family to England when he was a youth, and then to Tampa, FL during his teen years. Mandvi experienced a period of culture shock when he first arrived in the United States; however, as a high school student, he took theatre as an elective, which helped him to find his path. Mandvi received a scholarship to the University of South Florida, where he earned a degree in theatre. After graduating, he relocated to New York City and endured a period of struggle, working as a waiter and gradually making his way in the theatre scene. Eventually, he created "Sakina's Restaurant," a one-man tour-de-force in which he explored the immigrant experience through the eyes of several different Indian characters: a young immigrant man, an Americanized Indian girl, an older restaurateur dismayed by the Westernizing of his family, and others. Mandvi was lauded for his skillful portrayals as well as his ability to find depth and humor in his characters' lives.
Around the same time as "Sakina's Restaurant," Mandvi's movie career gained traction with roles in high-profile projects such as the thriller "The Siege" (1998), in which all young Arab men are herded and detained following a terrorist attack in New York City, and the comedy "Analyze This" (1999). A few years later, Mandvi enjoyed his first starring role in Ismail Merchant's adaptation of V.S. Naipaul's novel "The Mystic Masseur," playing a struggling writer living in Trinidad during the British Colonial era who gains notoriety as a miracle worker. Merchant, who along with James Ivory formed the award-winning filmmaking duo behind such hits as "Howard's End" (1992) and "The Remains of the Day" (1993), reportedly cast Mandvi based on his work in "Sakina's Restaurant." "The Mystic Masseur" (2001) received respectable critical reviews and brought more film and television work, including a small part in the blockbuster "Spider-Man 2" (2004) as Mr. Aziz, a pizza parlor owner who fires Peter Parker because his superhero duties interfere with delivering pizzas.
In 2006, Mandvi auditioned for the popular "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," which was casting a Middle Eastern correspondent for a fake news segment on the fighting in Lebanon. After winning the part, he appeared on the show that same day, spoofing the Bush administration's reaction to the Israel-Lebanon conflict, as then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had referred to the fighting as, "the birth pangs of a new Middle East": "We're going through some birth pains here," said Mandvi, who in the sketch was reporting on-location from Lebanon. "And you know how people tend to say things they don't mean when they're in labor. Nonsense like, 'How could you do this to me?' And, 'Death to America!'" This kicked off a run in which Mandvi appeared irregularly as a contributor for several months; it wasn't until March of 2007 that he became a regular correspondent, often reporting on international events -- and even then, a running gag was his constantly-changing title, which included "Senior Asian Correspondent" and "Senior Medical Correspondent."
With extensive exposure on a national comedy program, it's hardly surprising that Mandvi's film roles during the latter 2000s included such amusing fare as "Music and Lyrics" (2007) -- his part as a tone deaf doorman was initially much larger -- and "The Proposal" (2009), a romantic comedy hit for star Sandra Bullock. He also portrayed the villainous Commander Zhao in the M. Night Shyamalan cartoon adaptation "The Last Airbender" (2010), which received scathing reviews. Around this time, Mandvi made his first foray into screenwriting with "Today's Special" (2009), inspired by his stage show "Sakina's Restaurant" and starring Mandvi as a young sous chef who must put aside studying French cuisine to run the Indian eatery owned by his father, who has suffered a heart attack. Meanwhile, on the small screen, he played the recurring character Dr. Kenchy Dhuwalia on the drama "Jericho" (CBS, 2006-08), which ran for two seasons and became a cult hit. Although still frequently cast as characters with generic Middle Eastern-sounding names, Mandvi has also landed roles in which ethnicity mattered less: for example, the supporting character Bob Spaulding in the aforementioned comedy "The Proposal." And while he found many opportunities to balance his comedic side with more dramatic roles, he certainly did not leave his ridiculous side behind: Mandvi appeared in the panned comedy "Movie 43" (2013), an ensemble anthology film made up almost entirely of raunchy jokes and gross-out gags.
Cast (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Casting (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Television acting debut, playing a doorman on "Miami Vice" (NBC)
Breakthrough stage role in his one-man play "Sakina's Restaurant"; won an Obie Award
Landed a role on CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" as Dr. Leever
Auditioned for "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" (Comedy Central), hired the same day as a show correspondent
Landed a recurring role on medical drama "ER" (NBC)
Acted in the romantic comedy "The Proposal"
First screenplay credit: "Today's Special"
Joined the ensemble cast of the financial drama thriller "Margin Call"