Not so long ago, Hasan Minhaj was in Mumbai to accept the GQ ‘International Man of the Year’ award, where he spoke about how his identity and his upbringing has uniquely prepared him to be a part of “The Daily Show” in these politically charged times.
Minhaj’s humorous one-liners on stage, where he drew parallels between President Trump and an Indian uncle and likened Trump’s Chief of Staff General Kelly to an Indian aunty, got instant approval from everyone in the room.
But the sentiments encapsulated on stage by the Indian American comedian go on to show that no matter how much laughter he evokes, there is a serious undertone in his work.
But did you know Minhaj hadn’t always wanted to do comedy? In fact, he didn’t even have cable television at home when he was growing up. Minhaj, who graces the February issue of GQ India, told the magazine that he is keen on being a storyteller, and a performer, for whom the laughs are secondary.
Minhaj brings comedic relief by tapping into the daily goings-on and that’s precisely one of the reason why his humor resonates with fans.
Minhaj revealed in the magazine piece that when he was a political science major at the University of California, Davis, he watched “Never Scared,” a Chris Rock special, and fell in love with comedy. He started performing at open mics when he was 19, shuttling between gigs in his beat-up Nissan Stanza, he says, and he founded a comedy club on campus. After he graduated, Minhaj worked for a while in tech support in Palo Alto, Calif., but quit very rapidly to bet on himself: touring colleges, starting a Web series and finally flying to New York to audition for “The Daily Show.”
The article also has some cute details from Minhaj’s personal life, like at his wedding to his college sweetheart, Minhaj and his troupe of groomsmen danced to “Saajanji Ghar Aaye” from “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.”
The 32-year-old recalled that his conversation with “The Daily Show’s” former host Jon Stewart was a watershed moment in his professional life. He became wary of the responsibility that comes with being a comedian and introspected how he was going to use his comedic focus to make a difference.
“Jon Stewart calls all the correspondents into his office,” Minhaj said. “He said, ‘Look, I won’t be renewing my contract. I’ll be leaving the show.’ He said: ‘I’ve manipulated these chess pieces every different way I can.’”
“What do you mean?” Minhaj asked him.
Stewart replied: “I’ve done everything I can from behind a desk: host, play over-the-shoulder graphics, play a clip and then come out of it befuddled or angry, have fake correspondents sit across the desk from me.”
This made Minhaj think: What was he doing to push his art forward?
When Stewart left the show, Minhaj was already shaping up his autobiographical one-man show, “Homecoming King,” on Netflix, the hard-hitting, socially relevant and topical comedy which has been lauded by one and all.
During that time, Minhaj told the publication, a colleague told him, “The most interesting things you say to me are the things you say offstage.” It made him realize he was leaving behind some of his best thoughts, some of his most “poignant experiences, only because convention had boiled stand-up down to 10 or 15 minutes of patter.”
“Usually most shows are: ‘Joke-Joke-Joke-Joke-Joke, thank you and good night.’ I had to fundamentally change it,” he said.