“I love melanin. I’ve never gotten a sunburn. I’m hashtag blessed,” Hasan Minhaj states matter-of-factly, eyes wide, in front of a roaring audience. “But when you’re playing the video game of life and your avatar comes out white, you just get asked less questions along the way.”
Then, nothing but silence.
It is with this type of humor, alternating between making audiences laugh and cry with breakneck speed, that Minhaj explores the secrets immigrant parents inevitably keep, recounts his tragic prom night and the trials of growing up in the 90s, and tells his story of being brown in America on the Mondavi Center stage. Minhaj returned to his alma mater, University of California at Davis, to film his recently released Netflix comedy special, “Homecoming King.”
A correspondent on “The Daily Show” since 2014, Hasan Minhaj hosted the 2017 White House Correspondents’ Dinner where many of his one-liners went viral. Since then, the 31-year-old’s momentum has climaxed into something unstoppable, continuing with the release of “Homecoming King.”
Minhaj’s comedy special punches you right in the gut, forming tears of pain, before making you double over with laughter, tears of laughter streaming down your face.
He begins the set by telling classic first-generation Indian jokes – Stanford, mispronounced first names, medical school, his parents’ arranged marriage – you know the drill.
Minhaj’s parents are from the town of Aligargh in Uttar Pradesh, India, a state inhabited by 200 million, outlined by the Himalayas in the north and intersected by the mighty Ganges River.
He describes his mom as “that chick,” dubbing her the “iPhone 8 of Aligarh.”
“Have you heard of Seema? She’s very slim and slender. Her family owns a camera,” he says, feigning the shock of locals, to the audience’s delight.
His father, impressed, was married to her within ten minutes of going to her house, without once seeing her face. Minhaj compares this to a modern-day Tinder, but with no pictures, stressing his disbelief at Americans who dare to swipe left for imperfections like dimples or brown hair, revealing a key element throughout the show – audacity.
He continues, creating a connection with the audience by sharing childhood memories of being slapped in the middle of Costco because of spilling sodas and describing a conditional love only known by sons and daughters of immigrants.
He tells the story of when he told his parents he wanted to marry a Hindu, when his father utters the infamous sentence that breaks the heart of every brown kid – “Log kya kahenge,” meaning, “What will people think?”
This is when the comedy special soars to new heights of impressiveness. Minhaj manages to break our hearts and make us laugh within seconds, explaining, “Every time a brown father says ‘log kya kahenge,’ a star actually falls from the sky,” all while relaying a familiar story that even non-POC can relate to.
Minhaj, who jokes about his name being mispronounced as “Saddam Hussein” in school, recounts his life in the days following September 11, 2001. His father warned him on the night of, “Do not tell people you’re Muslim,” before being interrupted by a caller on the family landline who threatened Minhaj’s life. Minutes later, thuds could be heard from outside and they discovered that the family car’s windows had been smashed. Minhaj’s father somberly cleaned up the shattered windows in the middle of the street and trudged inside, glass embedded in the soles of his feet. Minhaj, furious, interrogated his father on his perfect zen demeanor, and his father calmly explained, “These things happen, and these things will continue to happen. That’s the price we pay for being here.”
This is the moment when Minhaj fully realizes the generational divide between them. He identifies as Indian, but also, more tangibly, as an American. He was born here, like many of us including myself, so he states, “I actually have the audacity of equality,” continuing to quote the Declaration of Independence, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. All men are created equal.”
He raises his voice, remembering his thoughts on September 12th, “I’m equal. I don’t deserve this,” as technicolor stars fall from an American flag in the background against his silhouette. He describes the familiar constant “auditions,” the never-ending pleas of immigrants for others to believe them when they say, “We love this country,” echoed over and over again.
Minhaj tells the audience the story of being stood up on his prom night by one of the first people to accept him for who he was. A girl named Bethany had recently moved to Davis, California, from Nebraska, and she often studied at Minhaj’s house, and he studied at hers. Her parents asked him questions like, “What do you like to do?” which was a first for the diligent student. The two kissed in a “stolen moment” at the end of his driveway during high school and planned to go to prom together. Minhaj turned up at her doorstep on prom night with his bike in tow and a corsage in hand only to be turned away at the front door by her mother who told him that because they were taking pictures for such a special occasion, “You wouldn’t be a good fit,” and Minhaj actually felt guilty, that guilt so many of us have felt. He discovered the terrible lesson that night that all POC must eventually learn – bigotry is often present even in the faces of smiling friends. He thought to himself, “Who was I to ruin their picture-perfect celebration?” How could he have the audacity to intrude?
Minhaj’s comedy special is unforgettable. It delivers again and again with hilariously bittersweet anecdotes that you will think about for weeks after as well their lasting implications. “Homecoming King” comes at a time when acceptance and love is especially important, as Minhaj drives home the point that, “Love intrinsically is bigger than fear.” He later quips, “Fox News taught me that. I’ve never seen so many people with spray tans who hate people of color.”
Minhaj’s comedy special reminds all POC, and especially first-generation brown immigrants, to have the audacity and tenacity to unapologetically keep reaching for that American dream that our parents came here for, because we deserve it as much as anyone else.
“The dream is for you to take,” he implores us. “So take that shit.”