By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
Born in Mumbai, Mandvi moved to northern England when he was a year old. Fifteen years later, his shop-owner father saw ads for real-estate deals in Florida and moved the family to Tampa. "I came from an all-boys British boarding school to a place where girls were wearing short shorts and everyone was running around on skateboards," he remembers. "It was completely another dimension for me."
As a Muslim Indian with a British accent, Mandvi was triply out of place. His new neighbors didn't know what to make of him. "I don't think that in the 1980s Americans knew that there were other countries," he jokes. "They knew that the oil came from somewhere, but they weren't sure where exactly."
After high school, he stayed in Tampa to attend the University of South Florida. He majored in theater and later landed a job at Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando making fun of guests as part of a wandering improv group. Three years later, he moved to New York.
Watching the city grow suspicious of Muslim-Americans following the September 11 terrorist attacks, Mandvi turned his comedy political. In off-Broadway plays, he mined the "idea of sitting between cultures, between East and West, being Muslim-American but having that experience of being a kid in Florida." The Daily Show asked him to audition in 2007, and he was hired the same day.
During the past four years, he has traveled the country for segments, but many of his most memorable moments have happened in the Sunshine State.
"Florida is such a huge piece of the pie in terms of national elections," Mandvi says, "so it becomes a kind of lightning rod for all kinds of political energy. There is a reason why the Republicans are having the convention in Tampa this year."
He pauses before offering another explanation for the locale of next week's event: "You can't ignore the fact that the Republicans are coming and having their convention in the city that has the best strip clubs in the world."
In five years on the campaign trail, Mandvi has learned what to expect from moments like the RNC. In Tampa, there will be a vastly different scene from the one at the Dems' convention in Charlotte.
"The DNC felt like just a big frat party, with kegs and people having a great time and dancing. The afterparties were all video games," he says of the 2008 convention in Denver. "Then the parties at the RNC always seemed to be debutante balls, with ice sculptures and women in ball gowns."
In Florida, The Daily Show won't struggle for material. Just ask executive producer Rory Albanese, who has helped coordinate coverage of six past conventions.
"A lot of that is just because it looks like America's penis," he says of Florida. "We didn't invent that. If it was Long Island, like I'm from, we wouldn't be a very well-hung country."
The Tampa convention also dovetails with two of The Daily Show's most recurring themes: the mainstream media's failings and money's ever-expanding role in politics.
"We all love watching CNN during debates or on election night," Albanese says. "It's like they have Q from the James Bond movies in the basement saying, 'Okay, Anderson [Cooper], here is the new jetpack. You're going to be flying around the studio.' What weird piece of technology will CNN have spent $50 million on and have no need for tonight?"
In May, The Daily Show's close cousin, The Colbert Report, poked fun at a mysterious South Floridian named Josue Larose for forming more than 600 PACs and 64 super-PACs, supposedly representing everyone from supermodels to Taco Bell customers.
As usual, Comedy Central's pranks hint at a deeper, darker truth. For months, the Tampa area has been flooded with political attack ads by shady, well-financed super-PACs, says Mayor Buckhorn. On a national scale, these anonymous expenditures could decide the election.
"There is so much political advertising coming through here, none of which is saying anything nice about anybody. And that's true of both sides," he says.
For a moment, Buckhorn sounds almost as cynical as Mandvi peeking behind the political curtain and finding nothing but frat boys drinking and screwing.
"The ads are just nonstop," he admits. "It's gotten to the point where we see so much of it that I almost long for the days of those Cialis ads."
Under the black lights of the Mons Venus strip club, Monica's eyes and teeth glow like St. Elmo's fire. Six-inch stilettos dangle from her toes as she sits at a waist-high table. Her folded arms prop up her bare, surgically enhanced breasts, nipples staring in opposite directions like a gunslinger's pistols. She smells like mint chewing gum and cigarettes.
It's a Monday afternoon. On an octagonal stage, a thin Asian girl grinds her naked hips against a pole as a few customers gaze at the gyrating spectacle.
"It's going to be as big as the Super Bowl," Monica says of the convention, over the heavy thumps of a hip-hop song. "Why do you think they are having it here in Tampa? It's the Mons. People have got to see what it's all about, even Republicans."