A new web series from Daily Show alumnus Aasif Mandvi uses sitcom-style humor to disarm many of the stereotypes surrounding Muslims living in America.
Halal in the Family, adapted from a former Daily Show skit, is now a four-episode online series. Directed by Miles Kahn and starring Mandvi and Sakina Jaffrey, and guest-starring Samantha Bee and the Roots’ Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, the entire series is available to watch on FunnyorDie.com and halalinthefamily.tv.
Mandvi and his co-stars play the “Qu’osbys,” an “ordinary family living in your town.” The episode “B’ully” deals with cyberbullying, as the Qu’osby daughter is harassed on Facebook.
“Oh Fatima, I was bullied in high school,” Mandvi’s Aasif Qu’osby, wearing a flamboyant sweater culled straight from the Cosby Show, consoles his daughter. “Look how I turned out. It’s all part of the American experience. Kids pick on people who are one day gonna rule the world: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates…”
“Barack Obama,” the Qu’osby matriarch adds.
“That Muslim guy?” Mandvi asks incredulously.
For Mandvi, the web series, which debuted on Thursday, comes at the perfect time.
“I think that conversation has been hijacked by the media, by politicians for their own purposes, and the answer is to be afraid,” Mandvi told Variety‘s PopPolitics on SiriusXM. “The answer is they are the bogeymen, that sort of thing. There is a very low favorable rating of Muslims right now – I think like 27% of Americans. I think we are just a little bit higher than Congress. And when most Americans hear the word ‘Muslim,’ it is like hearing the word ‘cancer.’ They respond in that way.”
Series director Miles Khan said that the show hopes to provide nuance in the way American Muslims are portrayed in entertainment and the media.
“At one point it was the Russians, and now it is the Middle East and Muslims,” Khan told Variety. “It is our new villain. That’s not to say that there aren’t problems in the Middle East, that there are not huge things we have to deal with right now. …But there is very little nuance in the way that Muslims, especially American Muslims, are portrayed in the media, and that is what really attracted me to this.”
The series was originally supposed to be a parody of the Cosby Show, until that show’s creator became engulfed in scandal. Instead, the creators turned to another ’70’s sitcom, the Norman Lear-created All in the Family.
“[Lear] liked it so much he actually donated some money to help us produce it,” Mandvi told the Daily Beast. “To him, this was exactly the right way to raise hot button issues because that is what he did with his shows in the 1970s and ’80s.”
Mandvi clarified his show’s mission to the Daily Beast:
The episodes are short but the hope is that by raising those issues, as well as online bullying of Muslims, it will start a conversation about the issue. It’s not that these episodes will end anti-Muslim bigotry or resolve these issues, but comedy can reach many more people than, say, a serious lecture on the topic.
Check out all four episodes of Halal in the Family here.