Hasan Minhaj uses humor to tackle tough topics

By KATHERINE LOGAN | December 7, 2017


COURTESY LAUREN QUESTELL Hasan Minhaj showcased his comedic skill at MSE’s final event of the year.

Considering that we’re in the middle of gearing up for finals, a.k.a. impending doom, I was surprised at the massive and honestly pretty diverse segment of our student body that was assembled in Turner Auditorium. The crowd waited, anxiously cramming in those last few calc problems.

When Hasan Minhaj took to the stage to a roar of applause, he quickly mocked this very fact, describing his surprise when his stage manager told him that literally everyone in the audience was studying. He asked, were we “not actually studying, just texting our friends?” Nope. “You guys are crazy,” he joked.

Then, he moved on to ridiculing the South, which as a Southern gal myself, I initially felt a little defensive about. He then clarified that he’d just finished up a fieldpiece for The Daily Show on gun-control, an “away game,” in Alabama. I’m pretty sure I let out an audible sigh of relief because, as a North Carolinian, I too can say fuck Alabama without betraying my roots.

The Walmart employee The Daily Show team was speaking to feared that Minhaj, or as he described himself, an “Indian boy band member,” could potentially be a member of ISIS.

He compared the lengths he would have to go to travel to Syria and become radicalized.

“[It’s like] a white girl getting to Coachella... only the strongest Beckys survive,” he said.

This is just one example of Minhaj’s skill at breaking down ideas and topics that seem controversial, sometimes even scary, and making them something you can laugh about.

As a Women, Gender and Sexuality minor, my heart lit up when Minhaj presented the double standard that he is often faced with: white men asking him why Muslim men repress their women, while American pop-culture mainstays implicitly teach of women’s inferiority.

Minhaj’s focus: the white Disney princesses. He first described Cinderella. “Her best-friends are mice and Sleeping Beauty, who is ‘Bill-Cosby-ed,’” Minhaj said. Meanwhile, he claimed that the princesses of color are totally badass. “Mulan achieves the highest military ranking position in Ancient China... and Moana liberates the Polynesian Islands.”

We were into it, laughing along, and then he said “John Hopkins.” Minhaj paused, noticing the change in the vibe, the scattering of “oooohs.” When he realized what he’d been heckled for, he seamlessly incorporated it into new material on the spot.

“I love how through the whole thing, you’re like ‘I have no problem with everything else, but you better get that part right, I’m not paying 85 grand a year for you to say John Hopkins,’” he said.

Meanwhile, he unapologetically called out the Milton S. Eisenhower (MSE) Symposium and Hopkins on the whole for the poor lighting quality and technical issues with his mic. “This is the hardest event I’ve ever done in my life.”

Minhaj can turn practically anything on its head, using rhetoric to prove his point without ever coming off as vitriolic towards the subjects of his jokes. Comparing racism to the rush he got when he called out a white guy on his flight for bringing his Samsung Galaxy on? Stellar.

If I had to compare Minhaj’s style of stand-up, at least what is included in the material of his specials, with that of another comedian today, I’d probably say it echoes John Oliver’s deep dives into complex topics on HBO’s Last Week Tonight.

Similarly, he incorporates clips from conservative news sources, pop culture references, multimedia visuals, statistics and interviews into his comedy. In this case, his subject was terrorism and immigration.

As Oliver and fellow former Daily Show correspondent, Samantha Bee have proven, this format is highly effective. Minhaj’s performance was a prime example of his unique voice, which deserves a larger, independent platform. Here’s hoping that he’ll soon be offered his own show.

Other fun tidbits we learned in the rapid-fire Q&A session that followed his set? His favorite Daily Show segment? Interviewing Justin Trudeau. Which Daily Show host does he enjoy working with more? He described Jon Stewart as his “52-year-old Jewish Yoda from Jersey” and Trevor Noah as his “comedy brother” that he came up with.

Minhaj brought the night to a close by roasting one of the University’s finest, the one and only Ben Carson, using the jokes that he’d hoped to be able to pull out at the “terrifying,” “District 12”-esque White House Correspondents Dinner. He ended on a high note, pulling no punches.

“You know Ben, I’ve gotta give it to you, as an Indian American my father always wanted me to grow up to be a brain surgeon, but I told him ‘Dad, what if I grow up to be like Ben Carson,’ and he said, ‘You know what, Hasan, maybe comedy isn’t so bad after all?’”

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