Comedy: Hasan Minhaj-Home Grown, Brown and Homecoming King
By Ras Siddiqui
The Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts at the University of California, Davis was buzzing with activity on Friday, January 27, 2017 with very long lines approaching the entrance from two directions.
Almost half of the lucky ones who were able to get tickets to this show appeared to be young South-Asian Desi college kids from the Greater Sacramento region plus some who made the trip from the bay area. And while the conversations which we heard in line were centered on Shah Rukh Khan’s latest film Raees (with Mahira Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui), the seemingly endless wait here was to attend the “Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King” comedy performance which was slated to start 10:00 PM. Both the 8:00 and 10:00 PM shows were sold out and some of the great response for this Muslim comedian and Indian-American could be attributed to the fact that Hasan had actually come back to his roots here in Davis, California where he attended high school and college. The other major factor was his joining The Daily Show team (he was probably the last one hired by Jon Stewart before he left the show).
Now with Hasan’s parents and sister, wife and extended family plus many close friends present, the thought had occurred to us that this might be a watered down or tamed show. That was not the case. And since this was also a Netflix special, it was being recorded live for future airings, adding to its importance. The set was professionally done and the stage presentation was planned to go along with the content presented.
The brief opening act by Travon Free, a writer for The Daily Show certainly added to the evening, and “warmed up the chair” for Hasan. And soon after, for well over an hour, the main act proved to be funny, witty and at times quite political as well, just in time it seems to reflect on the new changes being announced from Washington!
Hasan started by saying that he just had to open this special here, not Chicago or New York but right here in Davis, California. He reflected on how he has had a good year, recently celebrating a one-year wedding anniversary. He said that it felt quite liberating to no longer be concerned about his single friends. He shared how his parents got together, and how his dad found his mother in Aligarh, India and chose the young lady to be married to, sight unseen. He said that this still blows his mind and that thankfully after that he was born right here in this region, and that as a brown person, he could automatically be considered to have “made it” by being lucky enough to have been born in America. He also had a great deal to add about Desi fathering skills which included a slap here and there.
The management of expectations on both sides of the Minhaj family generational divide also took some time to explain. He said that he had to grow up listening to people butcher his name (some even called him Saddam Hussain). He also elaborated on his birthday his wishes and expectations from a major toy outlet (Toys “R” Us) were not met as he was taken to a Home Depot instead by his dad. His mom on the other hand spoiled him during her visits. He also spoke of missing her, under this very unusual arrangement.
Hasan spent 8 years of his life being taken care of by his dad while his mother was completing her degree in medicine in India. And when she did arrive to settle here permanently she had quite a surprise for him in tow, a younger sister! And how that all happened was also explained. Hasan said that initially he was not happy (talked about building a wall to keep out this brown girl) and tried to ignore her but she kept following him around calling him Hasan Bhai (brother). He told her off in English but she did not speak the language (then). And to top it all off his father brought his sister gifts like a BMX Bike which he himself wanted. There was a wonderful segment later on when his sister won his infinite affection for speaking out on his behalf while he was making the most important decision in his life.
Hasan spent some time (for those who may not know) explaining the differences between Hindus and Muslims and their religious preferences. He mentioned the divide, the creation of Pakistan, but also said that he stressed to his dad that there is something bigger (humanity) out there which unites all of us! “Log KiyaKahain Ge Bhai?” (What will people say?) was the line that his dad used at the time, and one that Hasan repeated and elaborated on during his show. Interestingly, the young Desis in the audience were laughing the hardest during this segment.
While Hasan’s humor poured out throughout the evening, so did his heart, especially when he expressed his feelings on how his family was impacted by 9/11. He explained how his father sat him down and told him not to talk about being a Muslim and about politics anymore. He added that it was no longer possible not to, especially after receiving threatening phone calls (calling them Sand Ni---- and Towelhead) and had their car windows smashed. He spoke of the fact that for his dad, the American Dream (and staying quiet) was enough, but for him, being American born, he wanted the audacity of equality! The fault lines between races and religions may remain but who can argue with Hasan especially from events last week in this country!
One can write a great deal more here but this report provides just a glimpse of the material Hasan used in his show and it is not meant to spoil the Netflix Special for future viewers. Exact quotes have not been used and the full content is being avoided. But one area that needs to be covered here in closing is possibly the reason for the “Homecoming King” title of this special. It has to do with a prom, a rite of passage for almost every high schooler (boy or girl) in America. For one brown kid in high school it was a time of rejection. Hasan Minhaj’s attempt to attend his prom with a white girl in Davis was prevented by the divisive thinking of the past generation. This show could be reflective of his desire for all around him to overcome that mindset. He is undoubtedly a funny man with a mission and he certainly succeeded in making his audience laugh here while connecting us with our common humanity in the process.