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scene

Hasan Minhaj spotlights different issues in ‘Patriot Act’

| Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Fresh off winning a Peabody, Hasan Minhaj is riding high. After a stint as a correspondent on modern comedy’s favorite incubator, “The Daily Show,” Minhaj has landed his very own talk show. “Patriot Act” is fast and furious — a cross between “Last Week Tonight” and Minhaj’s stand-up, a condensed “Big Short” with a slick visual panache. Scene Writer Nicholas Ottone sat down with senior Prathm Juneja to talk about the first four episodes of the new Netflix series.

Nicholas Ottone: Thanks for sitting down with me. Let’s start with any initial thoughts.

Prathm Juneja: I got really excited when the show was first [announced]. I was so enamored with the idea of someone who looked like me doing political comedy. So even before I saw the show, my initial reaction was pure excitement because of the representation. But Hasan also has a really cool sense of humor [that] I’ve loved since the “Daily Show” days. “Homecoming King” [Minhaj’s stand-up special] was phenomenal. And as I’ve been watching it, it’s exactly what I’d hoped for.

NO: When I saw he was getting his own show, I thought it was a perfect match. He’s the best stand-up-slash-late-night host for the YouTube age I’ve seen. He talks fast, he’s able to illustrate with graphics. And I think that’s illustrated when he goes through the Yemen conflict —

PJ: He talks so quickly!

NO: And he’s able to just really condense that information into an entertaining segment.

PJ: What Hasan is doing is similar to what John Oliver does [on “Last Week Tonight”]: telling stories no one knows about. Everyone knows oil harms our environment, but [the Taylor Energy] oil spill I had not heard of and it’s been going on for 14 years. He dives deep on one issue, and he’s chosen really personal issues. The episode about affirmative action needed to come from an Asian-American because it’s about Asian-Americans. Sometimes, though, I think he lacks nuance. There’s a phenomenal New Yorker piece written by an Asian-American woman who wrote about how we can separate this from affirmative action and talk about how [Asian applicants] being ranked lower on personality scores is really bad. I think Hasan missed some of that. But overall, he’s exposing us not only to issues relevant to the Indian-American and Asian-American community through an Indian and Asian-American lens, but also just issues at large.

NO: The first episode really set the tone. His style is very pop-culture-savvy, but he also litters his speech with Indian words like “lota” and mixes in American slang.

PJ: I was talking to my friend, who is Indian-American and goes to school elsewhere, and he feels Hasan tries to explain brown people to white people. I think Hasan does that a little, but a lot of the show is just him doing brown people stuff. The Kumon joke, we get that, we grew up with that. He shouts out my hometown of Edison, New Jersey. Edison has the most Indian people per square foot outside of India. Every Indian person knows what Edison is. He balances his role as communicator to all people and his role as a representative of Indian people.

NO: Many non-white entertainers have to strike that balance. Shifting gears, sometimes there’s smaller bits after the main story he calls “Article II.” What do you think of those?

PJ: I love them. I tweeted that an Indian guy talking about voting rights is the most important thing that’s ever happened to me. That’s what Hasan gave me. In his segment about Indian people in public life, that’s a joke only an Indian person can make, and I’m glad he did. I mean, yeah, we hate Dinesh D’Souza, that guy is a psychopath. We remember Bobby Jindal changed his name from Piyush, and he went to Brown and studied Biology but now doesn’t believe in climate change. Hasan does a really good job calling out the people who separated themselves from our culture or misappropriated it.

NO: I personally love his sense of humor. But I think he’s weaker when he talks straight to camera. The audience feels extra, like a laugh track.

PJ: I think watching him live would actually be boring. Another thing about his sense of humor, I am getting tired of “I look like a brown blank mixed with blank.” He re-uses that metaphorical joke format a lot. But I like how he ties his jokes back together. Like when he says his daughter should be able to sue for what most Americans sue for: not getting into Harvard. I love shows that have a continuity to them.

NO: That joke killed me. So when I wrote about “Crazy Rich Asians,” I emphasized how that was important to me representationally. You’ve talked about how seeing an Indian guy talking about voting rights is a very important thing. Why is that?

PJ: If you count the Indian-Americans in national office, it’s very few. If you only count Indian-Americans who haven’t changed their name, it’s even fewer. I grew up in a really Indian, Asian, diverse community back home in Edison, and public life was never really something you could do. But when you see someone like Hasan become famous and use his platform for something politically relevant, it brings you hope that some brown kid with a hard-to-pronounce name has a chance of making an impact in that way. So that means a lot to me.

The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily represent those of The Observer.

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