“There's all sorts of terrible things that happen around the world. And comedy's one of those few things where you can discuss those things.” ~Hasan Minhaj
Hasan Minhaj is an American comedian, political commentator, writer, producer, actor and television host with Indian roots. He came to prominence for his work on The Daily Show as its senior correspondent from 2014 to 2018. Minhaj was the featured speaker at the 2017 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. His weekly comedy show, Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, debuted on Netflix shortly thereafter and has made Minhaj a household name in both comedy and political commentary. Minhaj’s comedy has been described by many as a juxtaposition between optimism and cynicism. He addresses serious issues like racism, islamophobia, his life as the son of immigrants in the USA, his career, finding love and everything in between and beyond, all with a disarming smile and a patented brand of humour that leaves the audience in stitches. Through his work on his show, he has raised global awareness of the problems plaguing both American society and Indian society. Being in a unique position to discuss both, he has never shied away from presenting political commentary on India’s poverty, the plight of people in Kashmir, casteism and Islamophobia. Minhaj’s content– an unflinching look into many social evils with a dash of humour– is palatable to a large audience of a wide age range. He has made discussions of politics and political problems accessible– not by deescalating the severity of it, but by agreeing to present it in a way that his audience finds easy to understand and consume.
“To show a comedian on stage in India talking about sanitation or in South Africa talking about HIV and AIDS awareness, if you follow the joke into their lives, you can see that, like, oh, these things aren't just contrived in joke books. This is real life. I think the best comedians have that bravery and courage to say, ‘Oh, this is what it is.’” Minhaj’s existence in the slim intersection of comedy and political awareness makes him a creator with a unique brand of content that people traditionally underrepresented in media and television– Asians, especially South Asians and people with South Asian roots– can identify with. Seeing oneself and one’s struggles represented on the screen is a uniquely fulfilling and exciting feeling, one which Asians across the globe can relate to. When Minhaj says that despite having grown up in the USA, some part of him still belongs to India, still feels ‘Indian’, the cultural isolation and slight identity crisis of many millions of immigrants and their children is reflected. He sends a message to these people– that their struggles with their surroundings and their person is normal, and acceptable.
Hasan Minhaj embodies the spirit and the core essence of being Creatively Asian because he is unapologetic and honest in his art. He does not shy away from addressing the harsher truths of his life, his culture and his country. Instead, he attempts to creatively present these truths to an audience of people who may or may not be receptive to it presented in any other way. He has used the platform he has been offered to foster positive change, to raise awareness and to make it known to the world that people who are like him, look like him, and feel represented by the conversations he starts are not alone. He knows as a brown son of immigrant Muslims, how alienating the experience can be for individuals who do not fit into society’s rigid and definitive molds of appearance, culture, religion and mindset. Through his work, he has taken society one step closer to breaking down these rigid barriers and accepting such people with open arms. He is an icon within and beyond the Asian community, so here’s to hoping we see more of his spectacular work on many platforms.
Written by Geetanjali Roy and edited by Mariel Bumanglag of the Writing Committee.