The most affectionate moment Aasif Mandvi ever saw between his parents was after a practical joke involving urine.
The joke stemmed from an Indian prime minister who was known for purposefully drinking his own urine, Mandvi told an audience of Chapman students Tuesday night in Memorial Hall, reading from his book, “No Land’s Man.”
“Urine drinking was one of those things that, as an Indian kid, you hope your friends never find out about your culture,” the actor and comedian said. “Bathing in the Ganges and cows on the highway already are enough to explain to your Western friends.”
In a story that has been told and re-told in Mandvi’s family, his parents convinced his sister that they were drinking his father’s urine – and that it was completely acceptable. After revealing the joke that the pale yellow liquid was actually soda, Mandvi said he had never seen his parents so romantic with each other – acts he said are unusual among married couples in the Indian culture.
“Both of them were more proud of this practical joke than they were of anything they had ever done together, including raising two children and emigrating,” Mandvi told a laughing crowd of students.
The University Program Board fall speaker Mandvi, who was born in Bombay, India, is best known as a correspondent for “The Daily Show,” ending his nine-year stint around the time Trevor Noah replaced Jon Stewart as the show’s host in 2015.
The event drew a lower turnout than previous speakers, with about 100 students in attendance, according to sophomore Sneh Chawla, the awareness director for UPB. Nicole Byer from “Girl Code,” who spoke at Chapman Sept. 9, brought a crowd of 550, and more than 360 came to Memorial Hall to see Kunal Nayyar from “The Big Bang Theory” last fall.
“They (UPB members) told me there were going to be like hundreds of people here, and then they came backstage and they were like ‘People have class at night here, there are only like 25 people,’” Mandvi said at the beginning of his talk, which started at 7 p.m.
Chawla said that the timing of the event was one of the factors contributing to the attendance.
“We also did things a little differently this year,” Chawla said. “Because of the presidential debate, we chose not to host the event (Wednesday) to provide an opportunity for students to attend (the presidential debate) as well. Since we are in the middle of election season, we feel that it is important that students have an opportunity to attend such a crucial debate. Furthermore in previous years, we have hosted our program on Wednesday night as opposed to Tuesdays when many students have night classes.”
UPB budgeted $16,000 for the free event, which Chawla said included the speaker, books and other items. The budget for Leslie Odom Jr’s Sept. 25 talk at Chapman was $15,000.
Justin Sanchez, a sophomore psychology major, agreed that class times could be a reason for the event’s low turnout.
“I don’t think it’s a big deal,” Sanchez said. “A lot of people have class around this time. Two of my friends had labs for three hours around this time and are still in them so I don’t think it means that much.”
Despite the number of people in the audience, students appreciated the experiences Mandvi shared.
“I liked his anecdotes,” Sanchez said. “I mean, it’s always really funny to hear real-life experiences from other people.”
Another story Mandvi read from his book was about America’s reputation for brunch.
“My father moved my family to the U.S. because of one word: brunch,” Mandvi said. “‘The beauty of America,’ my father would say, ‘is that they have so much food that between breakfast and lunch, they have to eat again. You put them together and you get brunch.’ Genius, right?”
After moving to America, Mandvi’s family went on a road trip, for which his dad created custom T-shirts that read, “IHOP,” with “International House of Patel,” written under it.
When Mandvi pointed out that Patel was not their name, his father responded that “Americans don’t know the difference,” hoping that sporting the T-shirts in an IHOP restaurant would get the family free pancakes.
“We spent the next four days sitting in cramped station wagons, sleeping in cheap motels,” Mandvi said. “If we got hungry, my father would make us wait, passing sign after sign … until he saw what he was looking for: the sea, peacock-blue rooftop that signaled this brunch time beacon. He would excitedly pull off the freeway, open the trunk and hand us our costumes. My sister, my mother, my grandparents and I would stand dressing and undressing in the parking lot of another IHOP franchise in South Carolina or Maryland.”
And when 16-year-old Mandvi told his dad that this embarrassed him?
“Let me know you what is really embarrassing,” his father said in response. “Having only one pair of shoes. That’s embarrassing. Having to study for an exam in the street because you don’t have your own room. That’s embarrassing. Hanging off the side of a train on the way to work because it’s so crowded you can’t afford to see. That’s embarrassing.”
Some students in attendance appreciated these stories about Mandvi’s culture.
“My friend told me to come because it was supposed to be a thought-provoking kind of thing, and I like that,” said sophomore accounting major Lauren Higo. “I liked his stories from his book. I thought those were pretty interesting to hear, like about his culture and his life.”
Zoe Baron contributed to this report.
Q: What advice do you have for college students?
A: Stay in school. I don’t know what it’s like anymore. When I was in school, it was all about ‘Stay in school.’ Maybe for you guys, it’s about ‘Screw school, go discover an app.’ Disrupt something and be a social entrepreneur. It may be a different world. I’ve been out of school for so long that I don’t know. But whatever you want to do, it is important to have that foundation, hopefully school or an education. And then you can go off and say, ‘I don’t wanna be a lawyer, I want to invent an app or live in the Silicon Valley.’
Q: What is your favorite segment that you did on “The Daily Show?”
A: My personal favorite was the first time I ever appeared on ‘The Daily Show.’ I did this piece and it was my first appearance on ‘The Daily Show,’ and that has a special place for me. It was also an incredibly profound piece. It was the one that got me hired on the show. I didn’t write it, but it was written for me. It still is one of the most provocative pieces I’ve ever done on ‘The Daily Show,’ and that was Aug. 9, 2006.
Q: What was the craziest thing you ever did for “The Daily Show?”
I think when we did the thing in Idaho about Simplot and the holes and conspiracy, that was a really fun piece to do. Some of those pieces were hard because initially when we were ‘The Daily Show,’ we didn’t have a lot of frills. We were changing in gas station bathrooms and stuff. There was one where I literally changed into a Batman costume in a gas station bathroom. I literally went in and it was a gas station and I came out in a Batman costume and just walked out, and people were like ‘What the (expletive) just happened?’
Q: What is the weirdest thing a fan has ever done?
A: Sometimes people will point at you and say your name which is kind of weird because they don’t have anything to say, they’re just like ‘AASIF!’ And then you’re like ‘Yeah!’ And they’re like ‘Right?’ They don’t say ‘Love your work,’ or anything. It’s just ‘I know who you are! That’s it, ‘I recognize you!’
There was a woman who I met in a bar. She came up to me and she was pregnant and she told me that I could sleep with her and it would be OK with her husband. I was on her list, like a cheat sheet. But she was like, pregnant. And I was like, this is weird, uh, thanks! Not that it would have made a difference if she wasn’t pregnant, but the fact that she was pregnant made it all the more absurd. That would have been weird. She would have said to her child, ‘You know, one time I slept with this guy while you were in my stomach.’