Hasan Minhaj Educating One Joke at a Time
It is absolutely no secret that stand-up comedy is one of my favorite things in the entire world. I learned this about myself about a year or two ago. I was watching Saturday Night Live, and during a weekend update Pete Davidson came on and talked with his friend John Mulaney. I immedialty was captivated and falling out of my seat laughing at the things this man said. I realized shortly after that I needed to see more of him, and to my delight he had not one but three stand-up specials on Netflix. So, long story short, I ended up watching all of them in one night. Now, up until this point I had never seen stand-up of any kind before, but I quickly found that I loved it.
This was a while ago, and while John Mulaney will always be my favorite, I have branched out and watched some other comedians and their specials, and I am always on the prowl for new comedians. As I was browsing the stand-up genre on Netflix, I came across a name I had never seen before, Hasan Minhaj, so naturally I decided a quick google search was needed. One of the first things that popped up was an Ellen Degeneres interview on YouTube, I needed to know who this guy was so I immediatly clicked on it. It starts with Ellen announcing introducing Hasan, and the firs thing he does is correct Ellen on her pronunciation of his name. It is’s slight correction and he addresses it when she was so confused to how she had been saying his name wrong the entire time. He simply explained that if “you can pronounce Ansel Elgort, you can pronounce Hasan Minhaj”, and from that moment on I knew that I liked this guy. He was able to explain something meaningful to him in a way that was not only chewable but also comedic, and after watching the interview I decided that his special would definitly be worth a watch. I discovered it was called Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King, and without a moments hesitation I clicked play.
The special opens up with Hasan on a stage and a massive screen behind him that he used throughout as a way to show the audience who or what he is talking about. The show starts very light, he talks about his recent marriage and his lack of caring for his single friends now that he’s not one of them. Soon after that he begins speaking about his parents immigrating from India to California before he was born, and how he hit the jackpot being born in America, due to the privleges he was granted. The begining of the special is about his experience growing up Muslim with immigrant parents in a primarily caucasian town.
The most interesting thing about Hasan’s show, and my favorite part about it, was his ability to bring attention to something hard and difficult through comedy. Throughout the special he mentions his first real crush and senior prom date “bethany”. He starts her story with a classic boy meets new girl and immedialty falls for her situation. He describes the gradual advancements in their relationship and the relief he feels with her and her family accepting all of him. It all leads uo to his senior prom, a night he could hardly wait to happen. He had to sneak out of his house by jumping out of the window of his second story bedroom and bike to her house, for his father would not allow him to go. When he finally arrives at her house he rings the doorbell and is greeted by the family he has come to really like and trust plus Bethany and her other date Jeff. Bethany’s mom then explained to him that they loved him and though he was great, but they would be taking a lot of pictures and sending them to family members, and they didn’t think that photos of Hasan and Bethany would be a “good fit”.
Hasan is able to bring to attention a blatent act of racism in a way that makes you forget about the politics of the situation, and allows you to focus on the people. Hasan was the one who was hurt, and Hasan was the one who was told he wouldn’t be acceptable for his girlfriend’s family. In todays society, politics is in anything and everything we do, even when it is not meant to be. Hasan tells his stories so vibrantly and real that adding unnecessary politics would impair the message he was trying to put out.
Hasan’s message is so important. He exposes and explains what it’s like to face bigotry and hate in a subtle unaggressive way, and the confusion and self-loathing that occurs as a result. For, how is a young teenager being told he didn’t look right for pictures to know that it isn’t his fault?
Hasan also tells his audience what it is like to be the target of aggressive, violent action based on his ethnicity. The story he tells takes place right after September 11th, 2001. The night after the attack, his father his family down at the dinner table and tells them to not tell anyone that they are Muslim and to completely avoid the topic of poltics. Hasan’s father was aware from the very beginning that they would become targets and his response before anyone would react was to hide who they were. However, that same night they got a phone call from an unknown number and Hasan beats his father to pick it up, “HEY, hey you sand n******, where’s Osama?” the caller then tells him his address and threatens to kill him, and almost immediatly after they hang up Hasan hears a loud noise coming from outside; every window of their car was smashed in. Hasan, his young idealistic self, is angry, he cannot fathom that something like this just happened, but when he looks back his father is in the middle of the road with a broom sweeping up all the broken glass as fast as possible. This is the generational gap that harms the efforts to change they way things are.
Hasan’s father is aware of the immense privelege they are affored in being citizens of the United States. He’s so greatful for all the benefits that he is willing to accept and even expect the downsides. He, like a lot of other immigrants, feels that if he comes to this country, there is a price he must pay. Hasan is a different story. He is a born and raised American, and has he puts its, “has the audacity of equality”. That line stuck with me after I finished his watching his show. Why is it audacious, as an American citizen, to expect equality? Based on something he has no control over, he is subjected to bigotry, racism, violence and more, in a country that was founded on the concept of equality.
I got the idea to write my post-colonial semiotic analysis on Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King, after I saw his part in the New York Times mini films collection discussing race in America. He is capable of artiqualting his views and perspectives in a way that is not only informative but also funny. His special has its sad and serious parts, but I believe that is why it so good. Stand-up comedy has traditionally been used as a complete escape, and hour to sit and hear about someone else’s life and problem and laugh at their experiences and misfortunes. Hasan does all of this, while taking out the complete escape aspect. His audience is placed in his shoes for the show, meaning you feel what he felt and continues to feel living in our current society, but when the show is over you can’t let go of it the way you could in another stand-up show. He gives his audience a perspective that they would never have had, which therefore enables empathy to develop.
I would recommend this show to anyone and everyone, regardless of how interested they are in politics or stand-up. It is a show that breaks down what it is to live in this country as someone who is not caucasion in a way that just about everyone could understand. It is also a comedy special, meaning that it is hilarious. I laughed throughout the entire show, even when he was explaining the hardships he faces. He teaches about our current society in a form that I have never seen before, and I have never been more captivated.