NEW YORK — In his Emmy-winning series “Master of None,” Aziz Ansari, one of the most influential stand-up comedian in the United States today, presents millennials struggling with committing to a single course of action, be it monogamy, relocating for a new job or patronizing a food truck that promises the best tacos in New York City.
Now, in a video released on October 17, he criticizing members of the demographic for their inability to commit to electing Hillary Clinton president. “Oh Aziz, some of the millennials are really responding to you, if you can make a video,” he mimics the pleas that made him agree to appear in the video. “Really?? There’s a fucking guy running that says he hates brown people. That’s not enough?”
It wasn’t Ansari’s first attack on Donald Trump. In May, when the Republican primary candidate called for a ban on Muslim immigration to the United States, Ansari penned an op-ed for the New York Times, confessing that fears for his parents’ safety made him call his mom: “DON’T go anywhere near a mosque. Do all your prayer at home,” he begged her. Ansari goes on to warn that “with presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and others like him spewing hate speech, prejudice is reaching new levels. It’s visceral, and scary, and it affects how people live, work and pray. It makes me afraid for my family. It also makes no sense.”
While Ansari may be the most famous U.S. comedian from a Muslim background (he has made it clear that he himself is not religious) standing up to Trump’s Islamophobic rhetoric, a fleet of other writers and performers of Muslim background have felt compelled to fight back in recent months. With anti-Islam sentiments flaring, their craft is the best defense.
Ansari’s op-ed sought to humanize the Muslim experience in United States, as did the critically acclaimed “Shugs & Fats,” a web series that depicts the hilarious shenanigans of two hijab-wearing women in Brooklyn as they tackle speed dating or a boring book club while facing somber concerns such as deportation. It was created by Nadia P. Manzoor and Radhika Vaz, who star as the optimistic Shugs and her skeptic aunt Fats. In one episode, Shugs and Fats attempt to host a patriotic 4th of July barbecue, but accidentally set an American flag on fire, inevitably scaring a few Brooklyn hipsters.
When “Shugs and Fats” won the 2015 IFP Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Breakthrough Series-Short Form in November, Vaz took a dig at the Republican primary candidate. “We can use this to beat Donald Trump — but just lightly on the side.”
At the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July, where Trump was crowned the party’s nominee, “The Daily Show” correspondent Hasan Minhaj roamed the halls. He asked delegates if they hate Muslims and whether he would be deported if Trump is elected. A few delegates justified Trump’s anti-Muslim policy, while others were taken aback when Minhaj disclosed his own Muslim identity. “I’m glad you are one of the good ones,” said one woman as she smiled at him.
Comedians are not alone in thinking humor may be the best medicine against the intolerant messages of the presidential campaign. At the Democratic National Convention, held later in July, in Philadelphia, the Council on American-Islamic Relations handed out packets of Islamophobin — pills, chewing gum actually, whose wrapper promises “Multi-Symptom Relief for Chronic Islamaphobia,” including “Blind Intolerance” and “U.S. Presidential Election Year Scapegoating.” Instructions say: “Take two and call a Muslim in the morning,” with the warning that it “May result in peaceful coexistence.”
Yet as the campaign progressed, American Muslim comedians increasingly criticized not only Trump and the GOP but also the American public as a whole for allowing a presidential candidate to get away with anti-Muslim rhetoric and policy proposals. At an event in Manhattan in September, “The M Word: Muslim Comedians on the Right to Joke,” Minhaj said he was scheduled to perform at an event for members of the entertainment and political elite, at which he planned to ask: “Why can’t you just do to Trump what you did to Mel Gibson?”
The host of “The M Word,” Wajahat Ali, had another rebuke for the audience: “Who here is going to vote for Trump? OK, so when Trump puts me in a camp, thanks to you and your votes, two things: number one — visit us, and give us halal meat, and number two, let’s make a motion for Wi-Fi. Who here makes a commitment to visit their token Muslim friend in the camps?”
Today, on the eve of the final presidential debate, Ansari seems to be echoing the same sentiment. The effect that this campaign had on Muslim Americans has been explored countless times through well-written opinion pieces by leaders of the Muslim community in the United States and by popular American comedians. “Apparently, there is someone out there watching who is on the fence about voting,” he shouts at the audience, as if incredulous. “WTF do you need! Go out and vote!”
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