Earlier this month David Caton, the executive director of a relatively small Florida affiliate of the American Family Association, pressured Lowe’s to pull its advertising from TLC’s latest reality TV series, All American Muslim. Caton’s website, as Sarah Posner points out, claims that the show “profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks.” This is, ostensibly, to conceal the “Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.” Lowe’s subsequently bowed to the pressure, claiming that the program had become “a lightning rod” for those with “strong political and societal views”—a decision that not only sparked a heated discussion, but the satirical “missing Lowe’s ad” (watch it the end of the interview below), directed by Gregory Bonsignore and starring Rizwan Manji and Parvesh Cheena, both of whom starred in the NBC sitcom Outsourced.
Though only one is Canadian, RD associate editor Hussein Rashid spoke with all three earlier this week —ed.
As you know, there is a lot of talk about your people forming a stealth movement to take over America. You come here, marry our women, have babies to overtake our population, and try to control our entertainment industry. As part of the Canadian cabal to institute “niceness” everywhere, how do you respond?
PC: Canadians are the new Ladies’ Men. Even the women. They make all the American ladies swoon.
RM: I am personally offended that Canadians have been stereotyped as being “nice.” My initial inclination is to refuse to answer this question strictly based on the bias of the questioner; however having said that, I have come to America, married your women, and am in the process of taking over the population with my niceness. It’s merely a coincidence.
Lowe’s seems to be objecting to capitalism by refusing money from customers. Shouldn’t that appeal to your socialist sensibilities?
PC: If you take the L and W and E and S out of Lowe’s and add a B-A-M and another A you get o-BAMA. That’s a link. I’m just saying. Lowe’s = Obama = Socialism. Think about that, left-wingers.
RM: I think Lowes’ ill-conceived PR decisions of late are even mind-boggling to my Canadian Socialist self!
In your role in taking over our entertainment industry, you’ve appeared in some of America’s best-loved shows. You are even versatile enough to play brown, Muslim, American terrorists. But don’t you find your role in this most recent ad from Lowe’s truly objectionable? Here you are destroying the world’s natural resources to drive around town, and turn on an obscene number of lights. Doesn’t this offend your morality? Or do you truly have no shame?
PC: Riz gets to play all kinds of roles. I just play fat Indian guys. In fact, for my part in the Lowe’s ad, I was given food to eat between takes. The Christmas lights in the commercial were all LED, so: you’re welcome, Environment. Can I use plastic bags again now?
RM: I was forced to take part in this OBJECTIONABLE ad by TWO AMERICAN HOMOSEXUAL ATHEISTS whose sole goal was to further their agenda of HATE against MONOTHEISM!
An erudite scholar of Islam and sexuality commented on the website of academic excellence, Facebook, that you two guys are just a “little gay” at the end of the ad. Is this part of your mission? To advance a radical agenda of mutual respect and shared humanity? Why do you find it so difficult to hate and ostracize?
PC: Riz is gay. I’m straight. Gregory, I have no idea.
GB: There’s a love Parv and Riz have for one another that just transcends the screen. Putting a label on it would just cheapen it. Plus Riz is such a huge sex symbol to the gay Muslim community that if it came out he actually has a brilliant and sexy wife, it would totally ruin our international sales in Iran and the Emirates.
RM: We wanted to offend as many people in the commercial as we possibly could. A homosexual Muslim couple putting up Christmas lights after buying caulk from Lowe’s we thought would do the trick.
Did Lowe’s approach you to make this ad, or did you do it on your own?
PC: Sarah Palin told us to make the ad. She’s mad her show about Todd isn’t getting picked up. We told Sarah, we feel her pain. One season!
GB: [Lowe’s CEO] Robert Niblock is my father. This is just my way of acting out.
RM: I wish Lowe’s would have approached somebody before they sent that outrageous letter to the FFA and decided to pull their ads! Truly an un-American move and this is coming from a CANADIAN!!!
As director, what was your vision? It’s very memorable. What were your inspirations? How is it being received?
PC: Gregory loves the song “Dancing in the Moonlight” by Randy Newman.
GB: It began with the what-if image of two traditionally-dressed Muslim men walking into Lowe’s. Then we thought it might appear, in light of recent events, that they were there in retaliation… and what if they were there collecting supplies that looked pretty canonically like bomb-making supplies. Then, the idea coalesced that this could be the TV spot they pulled. If it’s memorable it’s because it plays upon so many tropes of the terrorist oeuvre. I had been watching a lot of the tense, masterful Homeland. So we wanted to lean into those “wait, are they…?” moments.
It’s been well-received by most, and it was important to us that the Muslim community themselves appreciated it. It’s also always amazing, when I do pieces like this, to see how many people miss the subtleties of satire, and think the Lowe’s corporation actually shot a two-minute commercial where they’re a one-stop Terrorist Superstore? I mean that keeps me laughing.
Did you have a talk with Lowe’s about their fears of being taken over by foreign entities if you did this ad? After all, they claim to be an All-American Company. Or did they not realize you were Canadian? Did you hide that from them?
PC: Ace Hardware gave us coupons for the next time we are in their stores.
Do Canadians even celebrate the birth of Jesus? I thought only Americans did that.
PC: I thought only Italians did.
GB: Jesus was very clear about his feelings on Canada [see Luke 5:14].
Finally, what’s up with the funny hats you’re wearing in the video? They don’t even have ear flaps.
PC: My ears were cold. And I’m from Chicago.
RM: We didn’t have any TOOKS or SKI MASKS in our wardrobe so that was the best we could come up with.
Gregory Bonsignore wrote his 5th grade PTA play, and soon found that was quite enough to get him beat up for all of 6th and much of 7th grades. Soon after, he started working in the Broadway and Off-Broadway theatre, PAing or ADing on 42nd Street, Tartuffe [Roundabout], Debbie Does Dallas, The Look of Love, The Awesome 80’s Prom, writing the musical book for the Broadway workshop of The Kevin Meaney Show, and producing the off-Broadway run of The Geranium on the Window Sill Just Died while in college. He studied Greek Drama in Athens, Renaissance Art in Florence, and was trained in writing at the BBC-London before graduating with honors from NYU (’05), writing/directing a number of NYU short films and plays and being named one of Dramatics magazine’s “8 to Watch”. While still an undergrad he was hired as Creative Development Assistant to Thomas Schumacher, President of Disney on Broadway, where he worked on International productions of The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Mary Poppins, and The Little Mermaid, and re-wrote the book with David Henry Hwang for Tarzan. He then applied for a Fulbright to Egypt, which led him to a post as the Playwright in Residence at the Library of Alexandria (Egypt), researching, writing and holding developmental readings of his play A Matter of Fact about the destruction of the Ancient Library. Whilst in Alexandria, he led a State Department program for Egyptian youth to write and perform a site-specific play, Let’s Make a Change, for which they were almost all thrown in a prison where it was said “You never again see birds.” This may or may not have catalyzed the current Arab Spring. On returning to the States, he became Script Coordinator for USA’s In Plain Sight, and since has written for CBS’ Three Rivers, ABC’s logic quiz show Million Dollar Mind Game, and a freelance episode that ended up unintentionally being the series finale of Fox’s Lie to Me with Tim Roth. He also co-wrote the film Bros B4 Hos with Jeff Marx (Avenue Q/ Book of Mormon) and Jeff Witzke, created a new attraction/show for Universal Studios, authored the play Us & Them performed at Mildred’s Umbrella Theatre, wrote a number of pivotal speeches for the Anti Prop. 8 Movement and the popular “It Gets Worse” viral video for Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign. Fox optioned his pilot “Yearbook” as part of their Diversity program, his pilot, “rare” (about a family of cannibals who immigrates to America) was brought to HBO by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Emily Ziff’s Cooperstown Productions as part of their first-look deal, and recently his pilot “As Seen on TV” was honored with a reading at the Rose D’Or Festival in Lucerne, Switzerland. He was invited on the two-week Jewish Federation’s Master class in Tel Aviv. He has lectured academically at a number of institutions including The New York Public Library, and is proud member of Writer’s Guild and Dramatist’s Guild. Today he lives in Los Angeles with his partner, is pitching a new Muslim family sitcom, and is rarely beat up.
Parvesh Cheena recently starred in NBC’s comedy series Outsourced as Gupta and is the voice of Blades on The HUB Network’s new cartoon, Transformers: Rescue Bots.
Parv grew up in Naperville, Illinois, and studied musical theatre at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. He currently resides in Los Angeles.
Cheena has recurred on Help Me Help You, ’Til Death, and Brothers and Sisters. Other guest-starring roles include ER, The West Wing, The O.C., The Fresh Beat Band, The Suite Life with Zack and Cody, and My Name is Earl.
His film debut was in Barbershop as Samir, and he reprised his role in the sequel Barbershop 2: Back in Business. Cheena appeared in Because I Said So, opposite Diane Keaton.
A Second City Los Angeles Conservatory and IO/West graduate, Cheena currently performs long-form improvisation with a three-man improv group named STU, the South Asian team Browntown, and the musical improv troupe All-Skate.
Rizwan Manji starred in the NBC sitcom Outsourced. He played Rajiv, the officious assistant manager of the Mid-America Novelties call center. He may also be remembered playing Salim Ali Khan in the hit film American Desi. Rizwan has worked with director Mike Nichols and actor Tom Hanks in Charlie Wilson’s War and Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton in Morning Glory. Past TV credits include: Flash Forward, Privileged, Better Off Ted, Suite Life on Deck, and Hannah Montana, among others. This season, Rizwan can be seen on NBC’s Free Agents and TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles. He just finished working with director Larry Charles on Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest film, The Dictator. Rizwan is Co-Founder and Artistic Director of DISHA, a South Asian Theater Company.