While delivering deadpan political humor as a correspondent for “The Daily Show,” Aasif Mandvi gave off the impression that he’d been training his whole life to be a comedian. Dropping jokes on hapless (and well-deserving) subjects seemed like the result of years of honing his standup craft.
In reality, Mandvi had a background in theater and film. Before joining the beloved Comedy Central staple in 2007, he had little experience in the standup world, and in one of his first gigs, he struggled to win over an old actor pal who seemed stunned to see him trying his hand in comedy.
“I had this one night in East Village, and I was just bombing, and I saw Peter Dinklage in the crowd,” says Mandvi, who headlines at Cobb’s Comedy Club in The City this weekend. “I knew Peter from some past acting gigs, and I just suddenly became transfixed on him. He had this look of confused bemusement, where he seemed like he was asking himself, ‘What is Aasif doing up there?’”
While Mandvi concedes that the baffled stares of the future Tyrion Lannister rattled his nerves, he has managed to develop his standup skills over the past decade or so to the point where he now “doesn’t have to give a f—- about every little audience movement.”
That emboldened comfort level has much to do with the content of his material.
Mandvi says he’s not the classic standup performer, dropping zingers or one-liners. Building from the foundation of his acclaimed 1998 one-man act, “Sakina’s Restaurant” — one of the first plays to depict the life of a South Asian immigrant — Mandvi specializes in a narrative, autobiographical storytelling style.
Relating his experiences as a Muslim immigrant in the U.S., Mandvi deftly uses humor to capture the fears, anxieties and absurdities of everyday life under Donald Trump. He also interweaves his more recognizable political humor into the personal stories, although he admits that he won’t be providing any answers to the audience on what, exactly, is happening in this country.
“I’m in the soup just like everybody else,” says Mandvi, who will be starring in “Evil,” a new CBS supernatural drama coming out in the fall. “I share this is collective frustration and sense of disbelief that we all have right now, as we watch our democracy just get kicked in the balls every day.”
Although he thinks there’s power in the shared venting of outrage in a comic setting, Mandvi also believes sometimes people just want to escape from the white noise of daily political disappointments.
“I think what’s happening politically can make you incredibly cynical and afraid, and comedy can lean into that at times,” says Mandvi. “But I also think we just need a respite and to laugh at some bulls—- that isn’t related to Donald Trump. I hope I can provide that outlet.”
Any respite would be much appreciated in these tough times. And for someone who is now dealing with the ending of his epic television series, “Game of Thrones,” Dinklage of all people could use a laugh right now. Perhaps he should give his old pal Aasif another shot.
IF YOU GO
Where: Cobb’s Comedy Club, 915 Columbus Ave., S.F.
When: 7:30 and 9:45 p.m. Friday-Saturday, , 7 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $25 to $35
Contact: (415) 928-4320, www.cobbscomedy.com