If any young comedian has had a fascinating trajectory, it’s Hasan Minhaj. As the last correspondent named by Jon Stewart in 2014 before he left The Daily Show, Minhaj carried the ideal of racial and religious diversity into the Trevor Noah era of the comic news program. He discusses a lot of his family’s immigrant experience (his Muslim parents came from India and moved to California) during his Peabody Award-winning debut comedy special Homecoming King. Minhaj was also the featured speaker at the 2017 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Now after recently leaving his Daily Show home, he’s on tour with Before the Storm – in Philly at the Merriam Theatre with two shows on Sunday, September 23 – in anticipation of Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj which starts up on Netflix in October. I caught up with him the day after the Emmy Awards to chat. Here is everything you need to know about the Hasan Minhaj new show and tour.
Everything you need to know about the Hasan Minhaj new show and tour
After having digested Homecoming King many times, and witnessing what made it funny – its nuanced examination of the immigrant experience – what do you think makes your Before the Storm tour dates radically different? What are you looking at or dissecting now, that you may not have had a chance or inkling to do previously?
Before the Storm is a preview for my upcoming show Patriot Act on Netflix, which is going to tackle major world issues through an investigative and comedic lens. In that way, a big chunk of Before the Storm is less personal than Homecoming King. But it’s really exciting to me because I get to talk about big topics, with nuance, and in a way that is not typical of stand up. That being said, I’ll always bring my specific perspective to the material. And on this tour, I get to share a few stories from my personal life that are more recent than what I talked about in Homecoming King.
You talked about your parents pragmatically having to endure racism when they came to America, but how you – being born in the states – had a different level of privilege and audacity. What do you see as your daughter’s level of freedom going forward? I know she’s six months old, but will you explain to her what sadness your parents must have gone through having to endure racist hassles?
Just like everyone else, I hope my daughter has every opportunity afforded to her as she grows up. I want her to live in a world where anything is possible for her. Of course, her grandparents’ story is a significant part of her identity, and she will definitely learn of their struggle. I hope racist nonsense will not be a factor in her life, but the 2018 news cycle suggests otherwise.
Did you have a road map of what Patriot Act (the Hasan Minhaj new show) would feel and sound like going into the Netflix negotiations, and what was that vibe?
Absolutely. We independently produced a proof of concept, which showed what an episode of Patriot Act would be like before we met with Netflix. So we knew exactly what we wanted the show to be. It was important because we wanted them to understand our vision from the get-go. We’re lucky because Netflix is super supportive of creators, so it’s been great to work with them.
What lessons did you learn or concepts gleaned from Trevor Noah and Jon Stewart, separately?
They’re both such smart, funny guys. I learned so much about what it means to be funny and what it takes to be a leader – from both of them. They’re also great friends.
Do you recall why – what Jon said – was the reason he wanted you on that team, and what was your impression of his reason?
Jon was passionate about bringing diverse voices to the show and about lifting up younger comics. He and I clicked during my audition, and I think he knew we’d work well together. In my audition, I actually made fun of his movie Rosewater, and he started cracking up. When that happened, I knew the show was going to be a blast.
What are you missing the most about The Daily Show?
The people. I worked there for four years. It’s bittersweet to leave. The Daily Show is a special place. We had fun together at the Emmys the other night as a last hurrah, and I truly look forward to keeping in touch with them in the future.
What were the comic – or not so comic – inspirations that fueled your aesthetics at the start of your career, and how has such initial influence morphed and changed as you’ve grown older?
Chris Rock had a huge influence on me. Seeing his specials is what made me want to do comedy. The Daily Show, obviously, also made a tremendous impact. Watching it in college made me realize you could combine comedy with intellectualism, and I thought that was incredibly cool, especially because I was a political science major. He was able to be very funny about important topics I was interested in.
Other than that it is your comedy, your opinion and your take on the news and current events, how do you think Patriot Act will approach modern cultural and the political landscape differently? How can you literally trump the hourly onslaught of bizarrely funny news for script content? I have heard the words ‘with sincerity’ about your program.
The strength of the show is that we have the time and space to explore topics in depth. We cannot react quickly to something the way “The Daily Show” can, but we can investigate and research political and cultural trends on a very sophisticated level. As a host, I think I’ll have a fresh perspective in this style of comedy as a Muslim and a first generation American. Diversity is lacking in the late night space so far. The benefit of the Netflix platform is that it has such a vast global reach, so we are also hoping to have a really international audience. Not just American issues, but world issues.
What do you hope audiences walk away with in regard to who they think you are – after Before the Storm– that may be different than what they came there thinking?
I hope they walk away from Before the Storm pumped up to watch Patriot Act in October.