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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

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Former TV host Hasan Minhaj speaks with UR community

<p>Comedian and political commentator Hasan Minhaj spoke with UR community members during an online event. <em>Courtesy of the Modlin Center for the Arts</em></p>

Comedian and political commentator Hasan Minhaj spoke with UR community members during an online event. Courtesy of the Modlin Center for the Arts

Although he was speaking to a faceless audience on Zoom instead of a theater full of hundreds of people, Hasan Minhaj still brought his signature wit, charisma and high energy to his virtual conversation with journalism professor Shahan Mufti on Tuesday night. 

Minhaj, an award-winning comedian, writer, producer and political commentator, answered a range of questions from Mufti and the University of Richmond community regarding the news, politics, culture — and how he uses comedy to confront it all. 

“I’ve used laughter to look at things I’ve been afraid of,” Minhaj said when asked about his experience in the entertainment industry. “Comedians joke about stuff; relationships, death, politics, family. You look at the things that scare you the most and laugh at them.”

While he rose to prominence as a former correspondent on “The Daily Show,” Minhaj is best known for creating Netflix’s “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj,” a weekly news comedy show that explored today’s political and cultural landscape with depth, humor and a nuanced perspective. Some of the show’s explored topics include elections, taxes, student loans, retirement and drug prices. 

Minhaj gave a humorous answer when asked about his process of choosing complicated pieces of news to turn into entertaining topics on his show.

“This is gonna sound wack, but I’m just going to be honest with you … It comes from a place of me going ‘hey am I dumb for not knowing this?’” Minhaj said.   

Minhaj said that he wants his show to serve as the beginning of the conversation and that after watching his show or shows like it, he hopes people will take the time to pivot to a longer piece of reputable investigative news sources to learn more. 

“Your show is like a gateway drug to good news,” Mufti said.

“Totally,” Minhaj replied.

“Patriot Act” wasn’t Minhaj’s first project on Netflix. Minhaj’s first stand-up special, “Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King,” premiered on the streaming site on May 23, 2017. In the critically acclaimed special, Minhaj shared his experiences of growing up as a first-generation Indian-American Muslim. Sharing his personal triumphs and hardships inspired countless people, including first-generation Pakistan-American Muslim UR junior, Zena Abro. 

“Growing up, it was rare to see someone on the television screen who looked like me, especially shown in a positive light,” Abro said, as she introduced Minhaj at Tuesday night’s event. “Watching Hasan Minhaj on ‘The Daily Show’ and his various Netflix appearances has allowed me to learn how to embrace my own identity and to always have the courage to stand up for what I believe in.” 

Minhaj first started outperforming in basements in Sacramento, and he had no idea how to create a comedy set, he said.

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“Because we did not have a cable TV at home, I did not know the jurisprudence of comedy,” Minhaj said. “So I actually brought joke books.” 

Minhaj said that in his early sets, he would use some original material, but most of the sets were just really old set-up jokes from the joke books that he put an Indian twist on. He continued doing this, committing what he called, “the cardinal sin of comedy,” until an older comedian graciously pulled Minhaj aside and told him better. 

Minhaj said he is grateful that his rough draft comedy sets were only seen in basements instead of broadcasted on YouTube, and he used this anecdote to respond to Mufti’s question about his thoughts on cancel-culture.

“There is a rough draft version of ourselves, and the final version of ourselves,” Minhaj said. “We all need to be able to show our rough draft version of ourselves somewhere. It’s what allows us to grow and to change.” 

While Minhaj is currently working on AppleTV’s “The Morning Show,” he teased that he has other projects lined up as the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As things begin to open up, I’m going to be hopefully announcing a tour pretty soon, and getting back out into theaters when we get the thumbs up,” Minhaj said. 

And as for why he keeps doing what he’s doing, Minhaj said he just feels so lucky.

“The fact that I make money doing what I love and the fact that you guys love my work - I’m really lucky,” Minhaj said. “I don’t want to lose sight of that.” 

Contact contributor Kayla Somers at kayla.somers@richmond.edu.

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