At the time of writing this, Hasan Minhaj’s Wikipedia page still referred to him as an “American” comedian. And my reaction was, and still is, “How dare they!” We all know that the Peabody Award recipient and ex-The Daily Show correspondent is one of ours. Yes, perhaps we should have claimed him sooner, but how were we to know how famous he would get? It’s not our fault that at first glance he seemed like just another American-born confused desi. Must we be punished for our low-level bigotry forever? I mean, we were late to the party with Freddie Mercury too, and no one noticed. Look, sometimes it takes millions of white people to let us know something is amazing before we admit it to ourselves; yoga, for example. And so, like Mercury and yoga, we will take Hasan, thank you very much.
And he is Indian, damn it! Because who else could possibly know the one phrase that governs our every move — “Log kya kahenge?” This question was front and centre in his fabulous one-man Netflix show, Homecoming King (2017). Frankly, I think he won the Peabody for that phrase alone. So technically, that Peabody is ours as well.
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Now, given that ownership of Hasan is clearly fraught, I was deeply relieved to know he is married to an Indian lady, and that they have managed to produce a full-Indian baby. I don’t care what their legal travel documents have to say, this whole family belongs to us. Although to be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure his wife was Indian “She is beautiful and kind, and she is a doctor — I married up,” says Hasan, and she married a comedian. Which Indian woman marries down? But Hasan convinced me of her brown-girl cred when we got to his sartorial decisions: “She is the truth; she will tell me if I look awful”. Sometimes, one has to be cruel to be kind, and no one knows this better than an Indian woman. Let’s face it: Hasan looks good, and you don’t look good unless someone has repeatedly told you that you look bad.
Naturally, I finally asked Hasan about his new, highly-anticipated (mainly by US Homeland Security) talk show, Patriot Act. Not because I care, but because he was tired of me badgering him to pick a side. This would truly be a case of the interviewee leading the interview, but he is a professional…and I will give him that (it’s probably his Indian work ethic). Having got Netflix to sign off on 32 episodes (another first for anyone, let alone an Indian — yay India!) Hasan and his team of writers will tackle the political and social issues that have as yet not found a platform on American TV. “We will work tirelessly to end any reference to chai-tea and naan-bread,” he assures me, as well as promote the fact that the best outfit for the Indian man is one that makes sure he is “completely covered — pants and a long-sleeved shirt” — I concur, there is no place for shorts and muscle tees in our culture, and with our body-type.
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On a less serious note, Patriot Act will delve into the social and political issues that have global impact (his words, not mine). Thanks to the reach Netflix provides, the show aims to look at not just what is happening in America, but what is happening in the world — and just because the American president doesn’t care about things like that doesn’t mean an Indian comedian with an American passport must follow suit (my words, not his). So, will India feature prominently on the show? “The Indian identity is not a monolith, and I definitely want to show that”. No sir, we are not! Some of us are indeed better than others, and we will be the first to let you know it.
In conclusion, I would like to say that Hasan Minhaj needs no introduction. Here is a man who is nice, funny, clever, prolific, and as far as I know, not connected to the drug-fuelled, non-consensual orgies that seem to dominate the lives of men in entertainment today. I had the pleasure of watching the live taping of the first episode, which deep dives into affirmative action, a major hot-button issue in the US college system (and similar to our reservations and quotas), but he manages to very cleverly bring in the Indian uncle’s point of view on the whole thing. I can’t wait to be impressed by the rest of the show. It promises to be honest, hilarious and fresh.
Featured photograph: Mark Seliger
Photograph courtesy of Netflix