Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
It seems that Indian comedians are ascendant these days.
We saw that the first SNL monologue in the Trump Era was performed by Aziz Ansari, who hit a deep home run during a time of great anxiety for many around the world. His fellow Muslim Indian-American comedian, Hasan Minhaj, was on the mic at the 2017 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, which did not include President Trump, who is a poor sport utterly lacking a sense of humor. Trump has no self-awareness and doesn’t want to admit it, but his bumbling around the corners of our federal government is pretty easy to make fun of.
For those of us who didn’t know much about the young and talented Minhaj, this is a good introduction. Minhaj carries the event well, despite some awkward half-hearted applauses. The writing and delivery are spot on in a pressure packed environment featuring top journalists, politicians, and celebrities. In this era of American darkness, we need more brown men to step up and poke fun at our leader- and our crumbling media landscape. They are two cracking pillars of an American society in rapid decline, right before our very eyes.
I should probably begin this review of Aziz Ansari’s new show by unpacking my strong anti-Aziz bias for some years. This bias was a product of multiple things, some of which are admittedly unfair because they are personal in nature: (1) People sincerely mistake me for Aziz regularly, especially when I rock a little stubble, which can get really annoying; (2) I had an 11-year career at NYC Parks & Recreation and also grew up in Indiana for 7 years, prompting many people who know I’m not Aziz Ansari to compare me to his character Tom Haverford on the NBC hit show (“You’re Aziz Ansari!”); (3) Despite my background (mine real, his fake) I did not find said hit show Parks & Recreation funny or interesting at all, nor Ansari’s role in it, although many people inform me I gave up on it too soon; (4) I found Ansari’s standup comedy to be long litanies of un-funny cliches and crude slapstick; (5) I hold Indians in American media to unfairly high standards partially due to their lack of representation, my unfulfilled desire to idolize someone in it, and my own aspiration to be a voice in it; and (6) On top of all this SO many people like Aziz Ansari, especially girls I know or go on dates with.
They constantly ask me my opinion of him as a thirty-something Indian-American living in New York till I say I honestly am not a big fan. Then I have to explain why, after which (too predictably) the non-Indian girls especially would look at me, puzzled and like, almost hurt. Wait, don’t you, Bobby Jindal, Mahatma Gandhi, and Aziz Ansari HAVE to stick together at least in my head?
After hearing friends, family, and even strangers on the subway encourage me to give his new show a try, I did so with my best friend, sister, and cousin. We all LOL’d. My opinion changed in one fell swoop with the release of the new Netflix show, Master of None. For the first time, I thoroughly respect Aziz Ansari and am even looking forward to additional seasons, having completed the first season. Here’s why. Read the rest of this entry
There is a renaissance of sorts going on in American comedy for Indian and Indian-American actors. We have come a long way from the time when the only Indian characters found in American film and TV were deep-accented and exaggeratedly clownish minstrels whose entire purpose was to entertain audiences by mercilessly mocking Indian culture.
Even worse, the characters were sometimes played by white actors wearing heavy brown makeup, such as Peter Sellers in the (admittedly entertaining) 1968 film The Party. This was in form with Hollywood’s penchant in decades gone by for casting white actors into Chinese roles such as Charlie Chan or the Native American Tonto. Those days are now over, and the characters played by today’s Indian stars such as Kal Penn, Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari, Russell Peters, and Jay Chadrasekhar sport American accents and mainstream western behavior completely in line with their white or black castmates. This transition says more about how America has changed than it does about the actors themselves. Read the rest of this entry