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A unique comedian in an expanding platform transforms comedy
A unique comedian in an expanding platform transforms comedy
Evan Shaw
Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Hasan Minhaj has a unique perspective in the world of comedy and journalism. As a first generation Indian-American, a millennial and a Muslim, he has qualities not traditionally seen in comedy or talk-shows. Think of David Letterman, Jay Leno, Jon Stewart, Samantha Bee and Stephen Colbert, all who are white Americans who dominated or are still dominating the nightly comedy scene. Only recently has Jon Stewart stepped away from his longtime show, “The Daily Show,” which is now headed by Trevor Noah, a biracial South African. Minhaj, who had his major television debut on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart in 2014, quickly became a voice to pay attention to. He hosted the Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner in 2016 and then the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2017, which gained attention for his critiques on government inaction and calling the absentee President Trump, a “liar in chief.”

After his fame began to rise, Netflix announced in March 2018 that Minhaj would have his own comedy-talk hybrid show on the platform. Minhaj’s show, “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj,” which began its third season on May 12, is not only wildly entertaining but timely important due to its effortless blend of journalism and comedy to engage a new generation with what is important. “Patriot Act,” which airs every Sunday, is a must watch for its content, execution, and Minhaj’s personality.

The content of “Patriot Act” is not just mindless rabble of what Minhaj thinks is important. It is a varied, and often neglected, range of subjects that Minhaj feels are necessary for his audience to engage with. In fact, his first episode tackled Saudi Arabia and their notorious de-facto leader, Mohammad bin Salman, aka MbS, due to Saudi human rights violations as well as the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Consequently, Netflix responded to a condemnation by the Saudi Arabian government by removing the episode from Netflix in Saudi Arabia. Minhaj responded in his own way, in the second season, by running an episode on censorship in China and drawing it back to his own censorship in Saudi Arabia. The episode does not only satisfy viewers for what they viewed as overkill by Saudi Arabia and Netflix, but informs them on an event not commonly reported in the media. In the episode, he connects America’s own #MeToo movement with China’s version that is being restricted by government controls and firewalls. Minhaj, throughout “Patriot Act”, illuminates world events in an effort to try and educate his audience and makes his show fresh and original in the process. Minhaj does not only talk about international issues, however, as he tackles US domestic issues like healthcare, social media and Big Oil.

His third season’s content, in its opening episode, investigated Brazilian corruption and the state of the Amazon rainforest in the face of climate change as well as the Philippines midterm elections. It might be strange that Brazilian corruption and Filipino elections are the focus of Minhaj at first glance, but after watching the entire episode, its clear to see the importance of the content. Brazil, as highlighted by Minhaj, cannot be forgotten about and he essentially rings another alarm bell to gather attention back to its corruption problems as well as its environmental issues. In American media, it is hard to report, or even maintain coverage, on a single topic. Minhaj’s show serves as a reminder of what is important, but often forgotten. His focus on the Filipino elections are timely and politically important as well because the season premiere fell on the eve of the Filipino midterms. Minhaj has a global audience, and his influence on how people consume media goes beyond the United States, as seen by Saudi Arabia’s concern in his critical episode on their regime. His concern with the Filipino election is one that we have in our own elections in the United States, also, with a heightened use of fear and misinformation to win political favor. For Filipinos, his content is vital to cutting through the smoke and mirrors and seeing the political fallacies of their President Rodrigo Duterte. For Americans, it is a way to connect with people worldwide and to draw greater attention to ongoing issues. Minhaj meticulously picks his content to make the most effective use of his platform on Netflix as a comedian.

The content itself cannot carry the show, however, and it has expert delivery and planning from Minhaj and his co-executive producer Prashanth Venkataramanujam. Venkataramanujam, who has been with Minhaj as a head writer for both of his correspondents dinners as well as his current show, creates the effortless seams between journalism and comedy that allows Minhaj to deliver his content and comedy without awkward interruption. When watching the show, it is easy to tell the amount of detail that goes into “Patriot Act.” Between the massive amounts of graphics and media content that backs Minhaj as he lays out data to get to the root of the issue to the carefully executed transitions between serious concern from Minhaj on the state of the issue to a wise-cracked joke to lighten the mood of the audience but still keep them engaged, there is little room to be bored with Minhaj as he walks around his small, interactive stage.

The show never leaves the stage, always following Minhaj’s facial expression as well as his audience’s reactions and often conversations with Minhaj. However, it feels just as if there are multiple scenes and an extended timeline, as Minhaj takes you from point A to point B on whatever topic the episode covers. There are plenty of shows on Netflix that do exactly the opposite; they leave viewers feeling stuck, checking their phone and going to the bathroom without caring to pause the show. However, Minhaj, because of his mastery of emotional lows and highs and balancing comedy and journalism in front of a live audience, keeps his viewers riveted. The evolution of his show from start to finish spins his content from a fledgling concept to a comedic report with purpose. Minhaj and Venkataramanujam, in planning, try and prevent any loose ends in the show and it is apparent to viewers. Those who watch feel educated and better able to form opinions on the wide variety of topics that Minhaj presents. However, that education is balanced with a good amount of jokes, that create a true millennial experience. Minhaj’s execution of his content stays true to his own experience as well as create wide bridges to share his experience and knowledge with others.

“Patriot Act” would also never be successful without the magnetic, quirky personality of Minhaj himself. Before his own show on Netflix, Minhaj had his own Netflix comedy special debut, “Homecoming King,” in 2017. Minhaj, who hosted the comedy special in Davis, California, his hometown, explored his childhood, racism, expectations of immigrants, and his failed prom date. Minhaj showed his true potential in this special, taking serious topics like the racism against minorities like him and the generational disparity between him and his father, and turning them into comprehensible comedy for his audience. Minhaj takes topics that not many choose to present and uses them to his advantage due to his natural ability to make people laugh and smile. He also, because of his magnetism, is able to get away with having opinions not in the majority. In a moment from “Homecoming King” that reminds viewers of Dave Chappelle’s often irreverent style of comedy, Minhaj tells white audience members to get over their white “liberal guilt” after a groan for his joke about his father checking around the aisle in a grocery store to slap him. Minhaj does not care what the few think of him, or upsetting politicians or even foreign governments. That indifference makes Minhaj relatable to his audience and is easily seen being carried onto “Patriot Act.” There are plenty of moments where Minhaj breaks from script to joke about an audience’s hypocritical groan or laugh, or have a heart to heart with an audience member that relates to the content.

Watching from home, these moments of unmoderated, but still pertinent, conversations and jokes make Minhaj more connectable. “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” would not be able to hold its unique spot in the comedy and journalistic world if it did not have Hasan Minhaj to wrap the content and execution with his indifferent, yet relatable personality.

“Patriot Act” is a refreshing addition to Netflix’s original content. By giving Minhaj a platform, Netflix is guaranteeing a space for journalism from a diverse perspective as well as great comedy. Everyone should be looking forward to “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” continue a newly set precedent of investigative journalism and comedy living side by side. The shows add a new episode every Sunday and already has two full seasons available on Netflix.