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Fear and Loathing in Tampa: Your Gonzo Guide to the Republican National Convention

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"We're not in the 17th Century anymore," Stewart says. "Vagina!"

"Governor!" The shout spun Rick Scott away from his budget presentation and toward the press pool. "You benefit from hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars every year," asked a reporter he didn't recognize. "So would you be willing to pee into this cup to prove to Florida taxpayers that you're not on drugs, that you're not using that money for drugs?"

"I've done it plenty of times," Scott stuttered.

"Would you pass this forward to the governor?" the reporter said, handing another journalist an empty plastic piss cup.

Sadly, Scott didn't take a leak. But the governor had been punked. Two months later, the stunt aired on an episode of The Daily Show, lambasting Scott for his welfare drug testing.

It was the most visible victory yet for a native son bent on airing his home state's unparalleled craziness. "When I first came to Florida as a boy, I said to myself: One day I'm going to ask the governor of this state to give me a urine sample in the middle of a press conference," says Aasif Mandvi, the comedian-cum-satirist. "Finally my dream came true, and I can cross it off my bucket list."

The Daily Show host Jon Stewart insists the program is "fake news," yet its skits surgically expose political hypocrisy better than any 60 Minutes piece. Florida is a favorite target, and Mandvi, who grew up in Tampa, is the perfect gonzo guide.

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 videogames," 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, 'OK, 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?"

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Michael E. Miller

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