The comedy of Hasan Minhaj has caused discomfort in some circles, “but the one thing I’m responsible for,” he says, “is telling the truth.”
The charismatic, funny, freshly sneakered host of Netflix’s Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj considers himself ... an underdog.
“I’m the child of immigrants. The Rocky narrative is the way to go,” he says. “I want to be Rocky. I don’t want to be Apollo Creed.” Patriot Act has raised the bar for political satire shows, dropping hilarious, meticulously researched truth bombs about geopolitical matters and cultural phenomena we either forgot about, or didn’t know existed.
“One of the things we’re trying to do — instead of getting caught up in the daily grind of topical news or the insanity of the Oval Office — is look at the larger problems,” he says.
“Even things you think are innocuous sometimes have a darker side.” The show relies on skills Minhaj displayed as a Daily Show correspondent from 2014 to 2018, as an expert roaster at the 2017 White House Correspondents Dinner and in his 2017 Netflix special, Homecoming King. The latter established him as a master storyteller, a trait central to Patriot Act.
“My identity as a Muslim and an American gave us a lot of license to talk about things in a very candid way,” he says. “I use my personal experiences and world view to shape the episodes. If I’m not going to bring that to the table and talk honestly, then the episode is pretty sterile.”
He uses that license generously, dissecting the role of immigrants under the current administration, addressing blatant racism on both sides of American politics and putting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) on blast for — among other things — the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi (“This is the most unbelievable cover story since Blake Shelton won [People magazine’s] Sexiest Man Alive.”)
In response, MBS asked Netflix to remove the episode from its Saudi channel. Netflix did, but Minhaj kept pressing the issue on his show. “Everybody is open to scrutiny, especially those in power,” he says. The ban boosted views in Saudi Arabia and created bipartisanship among Americans, a common and positive side-effect of the show.
“I definitely like to give ground to the other side of the argument. I like to play devil’s advocate,” he says. “And then I try to construct my argument to make sure we are factually accurate and airtight, everything is sourced and we’ve verified all the information.”
That makes for a grueling process before Minhaj — also cocreator of the series and an executive producer — hits the stage. “It’s almost like I’m a graduate student the rest of the week, getting ready to write my comedy thesis.” Once that part is over, he says, “It’s just a party for me!” And it shows. His animated energy is palpable through the screen.
Offscreen, Minhaj has become a husband and father over the past four years. “It has narrowed my focus,” he says. “I kind of had to Marie Kondo my entire life for things to work out in the long run.” But it’s all been worth it.
“People are starting to see the cultural and real-world impact that the show has, and that’s great,” he says. “The one thing I’m responsible for is telling the truth. That’s what’s gotten me here, and it’s what I want to continue doing.”
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 7, 2019.
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