It was the 2016 Democrat Convention. Hillary Clinton would be taking on Donald Trump in the 2016 United States Presidential Election. Clinton’s husband, former US president Bill Clinton took to the stage to thank all of Clinton’s supporters. He made a rousing speech that had everyone in the room enthralled except one person: comedian Hasan Minhaj.
The Patriot Act
Minhaj is currently the host of the Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj on Netflix. He is a former The Daily Show correspondent. At the time he was covering the convention for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Minhaj has spoken about how it was during Clinton’s speech that he realised it was time for him to cover the news in a different way. And thus birthed the idea for the Patriot Act.
Bill Clinton addressed the crowd saying: “And so I say to you, if you love this country, you’re working hard, you’re paying taxes and you’re obeying the law and you’d like to become a citizen, you should choose immigration reform over somebody that wants to send you back. If you’re a Muslim and you love America and freedom and you hate terror, stay here and help us win and make a future together. We want you.”
There was thunderous applause for Clinton’s speech. But it was those last sentences that made Minhaj uncomfortable.
“I remember standing there and being like, ‘Bill, I hate to tell you this … I don’t know any terrorists.’ I’m not Terrorist the Bounty Hunter,” Minhaj said. “He thought our only value was to help find terrorists, right?” Minhaj added saying he considered writing an “angry internet post”.
He ultimately decided against it: “I was like, ‘Look, I’m not gonna get my humanity from Bill fucking Clinton. He’s just not gonna get it … He will never understand where I’m coming from, my POV, the things my community has had to go through. We have to claim that shit on our terms.’ So I just started working on the show.”
The Patriot Act is a weekly show on Netflix. New episodes come out every Sunday. The episodes are released on YouTube as well. Every week Minhaj tackles a pertinent topic in the political landscape. Using comedy and a unique political lens, he investigates these topics. It’s just Minhaj and the stage and some amazing graphics.
But every week he delivers the topics with nuance, depth, and just enough comedy to ensure the audience doesn’t succumb to despair with the sometimes heavy topics.
Speaking truth to power
Minhaj is not afraid to speak truth to power – whoever is the person in power. He’s covered the Saudi Arabian government, the Indian elections, big pharmaceutical companies, Sudan, Amazon and more. He even recently spoke about the situation in Kashmir. Minhaj was one of the only high profile desi immigrant celebrities to address the issue.
In his episode about the Indian elections, Minhaj spoke about how all the desi aunties and uncles he knew told him not to do the episode. We can only imagine what a mess his Twitter mentions are. All of the trolls from Narendra Modi supporters to Saudi Arabian government fans must be competing for space.
Time 100 Person
Oh, and did we mention he was on the Time 100 list for the most influential people in 2019. This is the list that recognises people making a difference in the world whether for good or bad. The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah wrote the profile for Minhaj. In it, he encapsulated why Minhaj is so important. “We’ve needed Hasan’s voice since Donald Trump came down that golden escalator and turned immigrants and Muslims into his targets,” said Noah.
Minhaj is both of those things. He is a second-generation immigrant and Muslim. In his Netflix comedy special, Homecoming King Minhaj speaks about growing up a brown kid in a very white American town. Minhaj’s touching anecdotes of how he and his father came to America while his mother completed her studies in India show why he is so popular.
Claiming his identity
He speaks about his life and experiences without allowing room for a fetishisation of his identity.
Too often comedians (even our fav Trevor Noah) are guilty of this. They create a comedic show which plays on harmful stereotypes around their people. This might elicit all of the laughs from the crowd but does not help at all with destroying these stereotypes.
Minhaj is careful not to do this. He speaks about his childhood. He touches upon what it means to be brown and Muslim and immigrant in Trump’s America. Yet he rarely allows his people and community to be the fools in the jokes. Instead, he gives them depth and character.
Minhaj is also mainstreaming Asian parents. He recently shared a screenshot conversation between himself and his dad. Minhaj’s Instagram account hit one million followers. However, his dad was not impressed, saying that this was 17 million fewer than popular Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan. There’s nothing like immigrant parents to keep you grounded and we love than Minhaj is showcasing that in the mainstream.
Lilly Singh (Superwoman) is a popular YouTuber who will be the first brown woman to host a late-night show. She recently came to Minhaj to ask for advice. Minhaj told: “And the note of having no note was the best note. You’re gonna be you, Stephen [Colbert] is gonna be Stephen, [John] Oliver is gonna be Oliver — everyone is gonna do their own version of who they are.”
That probably sums up why Minhaj’s popularity is on the rise around the world. He is unapologetically himself and that’s clear to see.
Calling out his people
Best of all, he calls out the South Asian diaspora community on their problematic behaviour. He’s spoken about the anti-blackness from the community, and why Gandhi is problematic. During his conversation with Singh, they even spoke about the “What People Will Say” secrecy that happens in the South Asian immigrant community. Both agreed there is a need for more stigma-filled topics to be discussed.
Minhaj is doing so many things and we can’t wait to see what else he achieves.