There’s a moment in comedian Hasan Minhaj’s new one-man show in which he makes clear that he knows exactly who to thank when it comes to how he ended up on ‘The Daily Show.’
That name? Ben Affleck.
You see, it was the actor’s now-famous televised confrontation last fall, in which he called Bill Maher and atheist writer Sam Harris “gross and racist” because of their stereotyping of Islam that caught the attention of Muslim Americans everywhere — including Minhaj.
That moment also lead to a much needed creative breakthrough. At the time, the 30-year-old comedian was in the midst of auditioning for ‘The Daily Show’ and was asked to come back and audition with Jon Stewart. There was only one problem: his agent informed him that he had to come up with entirely new material.
“I’m not a Larry David,” he says during his show, meaning that pulling a routine out of thin air didn’t come naturally to him. Stumped, he struggled until catching Affleck’s appearance on “Real Time with Bill Maher.” Everything came together quickly after that and the bit, titled ‘Batman vs. Bill Maher,’ was born.
“Ben Affleck, I love you,” Minhaj exclaims at one point. "You’re the one! You may not be the hero we want but you’re the hero the Muslim world needs! We have Batman!”
Growing up an outsider
While the Batman story certainly gets one of the biggest laughs of the show, most of ‘Homecoming King’ has little to do with celebrity and much to do with the Indian-American Minhaj’s experience growing up as a second generation American in tiny Davis, California, where his parents moved from Aligarh, India shortly before his birth. A medical student, his mother quickly returned to Aligarh to complete her schooling, leaving the two Minhaj men to navigate life in America, alone.
“Do you know anyone who had a good time on the [school] bus?” Minhaj asks his audience. “It’s like racist ‘Inception.’”
A story of forgiveness
A running thread throughout ‘Homecoming King’ is the story of Minhaj’s close friendship with his high school crush Bethany Reed. He and Bethany quickly go from math study partners to something much more (or at least Minhaj thinks) until a heartbreaking moment in which Bethany’s parents forbid him from taking her to the prom. Minhaj takes what had to have been a devastating moment in his life and turns it into something more: a tale of human redemption and personal growth.
There is also a lot of forgiveness when it comes to Minhaj’s relationship with his father. Like many immigrant parents, the older Minhaj tried to protect his son by laying down the law, forbidding partying, stressing school and concealing most emotions. But as Hasan prepares to get married himself, he begins to see his parents in a newer, kinder light.
It was a bit of a surprise when Minhaj revealed during his post-show Q&A that his family hasn’t yet seen ‘Homecoming King,’ but are planning to attend closing night. "I just hope that they are proud,” he said quietly.
'Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King' runs until November 15 at the Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street, New York, New York). For more information, visit cherrylanetheatre.org
Lakshmi Gandhi is Metro's Social Media Manager. Follow her on Twitter @LakshmiGandhi.