Actor Mandvi lends wit to 'Express Written Consent'
'Million Dollar Arm' star talks latest role, brings laughs to Dodger Stadium booth
Aasif Mandvi was a perfect fit for the second installment of "Express Written Consent, mainly for two reasons -- he's hilarious, and he really doesn't know a lick about baseball.
That enabled the conversation between Mandvi and MLB.com host Jeremy Brisiel to steer this way, that way and every other way during their give-and-take while watching from a booth during a recent game at Dodger Stadium. With the focus most definitely not on what was happening on the field, it freed up some time for the two to discuss just about anything else that came down the pike.
And plenty came down.
For instance, we learned that Mandvi, a comedian by trade, started his career in the New York theater scene. In fact, he once had a non-singing, non-dancing role in "Oklahoma!" on Broadway.
Did you know he's also an impressionist? "I'm Howard Cosell." "Hello. I'm Michael Caine." (That's why you didn't know. That's the extent of his abilities in that area.)
Mandvi, born in India, raised in Great Britain and a Floridian beginning at age 16, is probably best known for his spots on the wildly popular "Daily Show." His bio on its web site pretty much sums it up -- "Aasif Mandvi began performing at the age of seven as a pixie in a school play wearing tights and a bonnet. He knew from that moment on that discreet but comfortable leggings coupled with a desperate need for attention was the secret of success."
That's probably not why he landed a role in the recent hit baseball movie "Million Dollar Arm," but there may be a parallel, given the comfortable leggings baseball players wear and their occasional affection for the spotlight.
In the movie, Mandvi plays Ash, business partner of agent J.B. Bernstein, played by Jon Hamm. Their agency is not doing very well, and Bernstein concocts a crazy idea to go to India and find ballplayers -- specifically, pitchers. They create a contest titled "Million Dollar Arm." The winners train for a year, and, conceptually, turn into professional ballplayers.
"I'm the pragmatic voice of reason," Mandvi said of his character. "I'm saying, 'This is crazy. You can't teach two kids who've never picked up a baseball to be professional baseball players in a year."
Since this was based on a true story, we know the outcome -- they were able to do just that, and the two players eventually were signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The story, while centered on baseball, goes beyond that. Being a non-baseball guy himself, Mandvi was moved by the story within the story.
"It's about a man [Bernstein] who learns to become a father to these boys," Mandvi said, "who he ends up adopting into his home. He puts the deal aside and actually becomes a guy who cares about these kids. So, there's an art to it."
There's also an art -- a comedic one -- to Mandvi's colorful descriptions of his co-star, the ever-appealing, charming Hamm.
"Not that attractive in person," Mandvi barbed. "I was shocked. They do a lot of makeup on Mad Men to make him look that good."
In real life, Mandvi estimated, Hamm "looks very much like Ernest Borgnine."
"He's always sneezing on people," Mandvi continued. "He licks his hands in public. Just things that you say, 'I wouldn't expect that from you.' He sneezes, wipes his sleeve, then shakes your hand. He's kind of uncivilized."
The laughs rolled on. In the regular exercise titled "Start, bench, cut," Mandvi was given three reality show choices: Survivor, American Idol and Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
He'd bench Idol: "It's really run its course by now," Mandvi said. "It's a little injured. Maybe it should go on the bench -- take some time off."
The "cut" choice was obvious: those Real Housewives.
"Real Housewives of Beverly Hills just sounds like it never should have existed to begin with," he said. "So, it's gone."
"Survivor is surviving," Mandvi said. "It's a survivor. How can you cut Survivor? You can't."
Next up: Ranking these famous hams: (Hamms -- get it?) Virginia, Honey Glazed, Miss Piggy.
"I'd start with Miss Piggy," Mandvi said. "I'd bench Honey Glazed. And I'd cut Virginia. I hate to do that."
Why? He has no idea.
"That's just what I think at this moment."
Something tells us he's built quite an impressive comedic career on that very concept. It's worked well for him, no?