*First published by Wear Your Voice Magazine, June 3, 2017.*
Hasan Minhaj’s eloquence and ability to reflect on micro and macro levels is so inspiring. I feel transformed for the better after spending an hour and change with him and his epic storytelling abilities.
If you had told me even 10 years ago that there would be so much amazing Desi representation in visual media in the year 2017 I would have laughed and said, “Yeah, in an alternate universe.” But here we are, with Mindy Kaling trailblazing for South Asian American women and headlining her own show after a hugely successful writing and comedy career; Aziz Ansari starring as the romantic lead in his own show after fantastic supporting roles on shows like Parks and Recreation; Hannah Simone repping for all us biracial South Asians on The New Girl and Priyanka Chopra kicking so much butt leading Quantico.
And adding to this glorious Desi-American masala we have Hasan Minhaj who is a Daily Show correspondent and also featuring in his new Netflix comedy show Homecoming King.
Minhaj’s Homecoming King is a bittersweet love letter to his experience growing up Indian and American in Southern California. Equal parts hilarious, vulnerable, and real, Minhaj details his childhood as the only brown kid in a mostly-white Davis, as well as his journey to become the Daily Show funnyman we know and love so much.
Using his charismatic stage presence and electric writing, the first thing he tackles is his heritage. His parents had an arranged marriage, and their first big experiences as a couple were moving to America and having Hasan; but Hasan’s mom had to finish her medical degree in India, so she didn’t live with Hasan and his dad for the first eight years of their life in California.
With buckets of empathy, Minhaj details life with his Indian dad as they navigated America together as well as their many cultural clashes. Hasan, after all, is American in a way his dad will never be and their relationship was encapsulated by that push-pull dynamic of many immigrant families. Some of Minhaj’s most raw moments in Homecoming King are when he talks about his complicated relationship with his dad and reflects on the difficult experiences that become so meaningful in retrospect.
And never is the generation gap of first gen immigrants and their parents ever so clear as in how Hasan and his dad responded to the racist attacks on their family in the wake of 9/11. Mr. Minhaj put his head down and took the abuse — Hasan interpreting this as a kind of immigrant tax the older generations feel they have to pay for living in this country and being non-white. On the other hand, Hasan was filled with a new rage that he and his American family would and could be scapegoated in this violent way with impunity.
Minhaj’s comments about the “audacity of equality,” that he as an American-born citizen would not stand for this abuse when the older generation see it almost as a rite of passage, are incredible and illuminating. We can sum up the Trump regime’s entire ethos in response to the “audacity of equality” that today women, black and brown Americans, immigrants, the LGBTQIA community, disabled, and other minorities have the nerve to believe that they are equal and deserve equal human rights. Minhaj is a phenomenal wordsmith indeed.
What’s so remarkable about Minhaj’s show is that in spite of an overwhelming theme of racism and the Indian American and Muslim immigrant experience, Minhaj somehow manages to find the points of comedy in each of the situations he and his family survived. I found myself belly laughing through tears at so much beautiful resonance in his experience and my own, even though our backgrounds are nothing at all alike. And Minhaj’s marvelous ability to shift from physical comedy to tearful emotional vulnerability smashes so many stereotypes not just about South Asian men and Muslims, but about masculinity in general. These are unicorn qualities, for real.
One of the most important and my favorite aspect of Homecoming King — like Aziz Ansari’s Master of None — is that Minhaj’s writing does not rely on cheap comedic tricks that tear other people down in order to elicit a laugh or two at the expense of another marginalized group. I mean, there isn’t even one joke about him going out, getting wasted, and pulling jackass stunts for quick laughs either. The show is just so real, and so human. There is nothing so refreshing in this era of orange-tinged horror to be able to laugh with someone on a pure level that taps into our shared humanity, compassion, and empathy. This is dignified comedy, and I hope it prompts a whole new generation of comedians to follow in its footsteps.
And while he does poke fun at family quirks in the most good-natured of ways, and details the foibles of being a Third Culture Desi Kid in America, the overwhelming theme of his show surprisingly ended up being one of forgiveness. For so many of us Others in America, our experience begins to be defined by the shitty things that (often white) people say or do to us that remind us just how much we don’t belong here.
It’s hard not to get bitter, and it’s even harder to not let those small bitternesses turn into huge resentments. Minhaj’s concurrent narrative about his first sorta-girlfriend and her racist family was as cathartic for me to watch as it must have been for him to experience and write about in his own real life. I don’t believe in forgiveness for people who have committed wicked wrongs and on purpose, but Hasan’s dad’s words about being brave enough to forgive the prejudiced jerks who profoundly wounded us really gave me pause. We have a right to be angry. We also have a right to let go of that anger and move on, and especially when that anger no longer serves us but instead drags us down.
I am so impressed by Minhaj’s honesty and fearlessness in putting himself out there in this way, especially with the ever-present and particularly-Desi hanging social threat of “What will people think?” Minhaj’s eloquence and ability to reflect on micro and macro levels is so inspiring. I feel transformed for the better after spending an hour and change with him and his epic storytelling abilities. Homecoming King is yet another wonderful piece of evidence that we truly are approaching a Golden Age of visual media, just as long as the promotion of diverse voices and representation continues.
In the end, the only way we are going to smash stereotypes and come together as Americans and human beings is by giving stereotyped peoples the opportunity to address the world and add nuance to the discussion. All the networks, please give us more like Homecoming King. Seriously, our hearts and souls need these kinds of elixirs and immediately.
Featured Image: courtesy of Hasan Minhaj