What's behind the humor of Hasan Minhaj on Netflix

Studio 360

Three weeks. That’s how long comedian Hasan Minhaj had to prep for his now-legendary presidential roast at April’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

“It was one of those things no one wanted to touch but I thought that 'hey, this is it,'” he says.

In fact, he wove that into his address: “I would say it is an honor to do this, but that would be an 'alternative fact,'” he said, warming up the crowd of journalists. “No one wanted to do this, so of course it falls in the hands of an immigrant.”

For the 31-year-old correspondent of "The Daily Show," the spotlight on his deft social commentary wasn’t the only one so far this year. In May, he released a new Netflix comedy special, “Homecoming King” (trailer above), that’s netting admiring headlines for its take on growing up as a second-generation American. (Minhaj’s Muslim parents emigrated from India.)

“In 10 minutes, the man married a woman he had never laid eyes on,” he says during the show, of his parents’ first meeting. “You understand, that's Tinder with no photos. It’s like, 'Yeah, I want that for the rest of my life. I hope she has a good personality. Let's move to the United States, where we're the only people who know each other.'”

Minhaj explains a bit of what's behind his material: “I wanted to do things onstage that are a little bit more evergreen but still contemporary and work. And personal stories, I think, do have that lasting power.”

The show deals with many themes — race, identity, love, what it means to be an American, what it means to be a patriotic American — that are relevant in 2017 America, he adds. “But they are grounded in my personal experience.”

In particular, the show tugs at what Minhaj calls a generational tension between him and his chemist father, who disapproved of Minhaj’s pursuit of a career in comedy. “So, why are you going to the craps table called the American dream and rolling and betting on comedian?” he says of his dad’s sentiment.

“That embodied so much of what my parents — my dad specifically — [were] about. And for me, it was about choice and having the audacity of equality and all these nuances or takes on what it means to be American. It worked out. And again, I'm lucky that over the course of the show and my life, that both me and my dad have been able to have a much better understanding of one another.”

Even when Minhaj jokes about their relationship in front of Washington leaders. At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Minhaj briefly drew on family ties to reimagine Ivanka Trump’s endorsement of her father.

“We all love our parents, but we wouldn't endorse them for president,” Minhaj said. “If someone's like, 'Hasan, should your dad be president of the United States?' I’d be like, "My dad, Najme Minhaj? The guy who tries to return used underwear to Costco?""

In the audience, Minhaj says, his father winced. “But then he looked up and he saw everybody else laughing, and I think in that moment he realized, 'Oh, everybody kind of has a dad that tries to return used underwear to Costco. It's OK.’”

This article is based on an interview that aired on PRI's Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen.

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