This interview originally aired in June 2017.
Comedian Hasan Minhaj is doing more with his stand-up act than just making people laugh. He’s representing a vision of America, "We're at this crazy turning point for the country. We're fighting, are we the nativist narrative or are we the immigrant narrative?"
In 2017, Minhaj has had a few big stages where he could discuss that question and make the case for the narrative he represents. He has his regular gig as a correspondent on "The Daily Show" and there was his performance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Then last month he released his comedy special “Homecoming King" on Netflix.
The special is about Minhaj's life as an Indian-American kid growing up in predominantly white Davis, California, and pursuing his dream of doing comedy, despite his parents wishes to the contrary.
On the competing narratives in America today:
The nativist narrative means there's certain iconic "American" ideals. We are Norman Rockwell, We are Coca-Cola, We're the Dallas Cowboys we're Support The Troops. We are these things that you don't mess with these foundational concepts. Or are we the immigrant narrative? Are we the great marketplace of ideas? Come one, come all. Come with your ideas and may the best idea win. We don't care what you look like, as long as you have the best idea and that's why we're America. The home of Apple, the home of Tesla, the home of, name whoever you want, who came from another part of the world, or another face or background, but bring your best ideas here, that's what makes America great.
So I feel like I'm part of this generation of people who look slightly different or who have slightly different names, but we're adding these amazing ideas to America. That to me is the narrative I'm fighting for. The things I'm fighting for are actually American ideals.
On what inspired him to make "Homecoming King":
On "The Daily Show," we get so caught up in the day-to-day news cycle. A story breaks and then the piranhas in late night, we all jump to the headline and we dissect it, and then we have to move on to the next day. And one of the things that I wanted to do was to work on something that’s a little bit more evergreen. The things that I talk about in the show – falling in love, not being able to be with somebody you care about because of variables that you can’t control – those themes are still so relevant in 2017. That’s what I wanted to do — have real, real stories that are based on events from my life. But then if you extrapolate them, that’s what 2017 Trump’s America is like.
On challenging the idea of a post-racial America
A lot of times, we as a country don’t want to talk about these things because we’re living our day-to-day lives. So when you read [about] something like the Muslim ban, or [that] we’re going to build a wall, people are like, Look, man, I’m just trying to go to work, drop my kids off at school, and live my life. The story that I’m telling in "Homecoming King" about falling in love, these are things that happened to me — that actually happen everyday in our backyards and in our communities. The reason why I think that the story is so powerful – and I think we’ve all experienced this, regardless of race, color, creed, or class or sexuality – [is] we’ve all dealt with these doorstep moments where we’ve put ourselves on the line and we weren’t accepted because of something we can’t control. Now, for me, it was the color of my skin. But for other people it’s a myriad of other reasons. It was the first We’re going to go in a different direction moment, where you put your heart on the line and people say, Hey, because of variables you can’t control, we just have to do something different because, you know, if you’re seen with our daughter at prom, we’re going to take photos, what are people going to think? And that moment in my life captured so much. And I think it speaks to a lot of moments people are having now.
On deciding to perform at the 2017 White House Correspondents' Dinner:
A lot of times in life, it's personal choices that you're making, actively, and then there's a myriad of forces and circumstances that are out of our control. And without even realizing it, you're riding a wave of events that you have no control of. So, I am who I am. I'm Hasan Minhaj. I'm this this Indian-American Muslim comedian in America during the Trump Administration. Now, a series of circumstances unfold where Donald Trump is the president, he pulls out of the event, the Administration has boycotted, all these variables happen. A bunch of comedians had passed on the gig because it's too contentious. There's just a lot of, Will the event still happen? Is the event going to implode on itself? And then I get asked three weeks before the gig: "Do you want to do the dinner?" And I felt, Wow! What amazing timing and circumstances that, given the current administration, I would be asked to be the comedian to comment. I thought, This is a hell of an opportunity.
To hear the full interview, click the blue player above.