Laughing for Pakistanis

Comedian Aasif Mandvi, correspondent for Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, began last night’s “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” at Comix on W. 14th Street in New York (previously blogged by Jess) reflecting on things he missed as a kid growing up Muslim. “Santa Claus. Bacon Bits.” (Pause, the critical tool of the comic.) “Seeing my mother’s face.”

Abundant laughter. From the Pakistanis. The Bangladeshis. The women with head scarves. The blondes. The Indians. The Palestinians. The Jews.

“No, no, we’re not laughing at that. It’s not that kind of night,” he responded.

It was that kind of night, actually, when for a moment you can believe that all the world’s problems could be solved if everyone would just lighten up a little bit (or a lot) and laugh together, at themselves and at each other. The lineup was packed. It was like there’d been an uprising at The Daily Show and Jon Stewart was stashed in a closet somewhere backstage bound in duct tape. In addition to Aasif Mandvi, there was Wyatt Cenac, Rory Albanese, and John Oliver, apologizing on behalf of the crown to the crowd that represented most of the Middle East and central and south Asia. “You all have so many different reasons to be mad at me,” he said. Also Rachel Feinstein, Azhar Usman, Todd Barry, Maysoon Zayid, Dean Obeidallah, and a surprise appearance by Jim Gaffigan.

The sold-out show raised money for Relief4Pakistan, to help victims of the recent flooding that put a fifth of the country underwater, affecting an estimated 20 million people—although it was a blip in the press, compared to the, say, five weeks of media attention focusing on whether a pastor in Florida was going or not going to burn a Qu’ran.

Meera Subramanian is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about the environment and culture for Nature, InsideClimate News, Virginia Quarterly Review, Orion, and others. Her first book is A River Runs Again: A Natural History of India from the Barren Cliffs of Rajasthan to the Farmlands of Karnataka (PublicAffairs, 2015). Visit her at