No matter who you are, where you live or what you believe in, chances are that with all the chaos and tragedy currently plaguing every available media outlet you seriously need a laugh right now.
Perhaps that’s why Netflix’s Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King seems so perfectly timed. In this autobiographical stand up, Hasan expertly weaves an endearing personal story of the immigrant experience in America and the undeniably unique expectations and challenges it entails – all the while constantly making us burst out into laughter.
From grade school peer pressure, to awkward study dates, sibling jealousy and shameless internet stalking, Hasan relays each ordeal with an equal mix of such sneering disbelief and dramatic facial expressions that no one, immigrant or mainstream resident alike, can resist from being pulled into and emotionally invested in his story. Even if you somehow missed Hasan’s regular appearances on The Daily Show, or his uproarious hosting of the White House Correspondence Dinner this year, he is so clearly a deeply engaging storyteller that you desperately want to hear how each anecdote unfolds. All of these he tops off with some colorful gestures and hilarious visual aids that, at times, almost make you feel like you’re watching a TED talk.
Though what really sets this comedy special apart is the fact that Hasan doesn’t shy away from presenting his audience with the dark realities they most likely don’t want to think about. While the accounts of racism he gives are solely personal to him, by drawing us into his own memories we’re simultaneously forced to realize that many of these horrendous acts are sadly a regular occurrence for newcomer populations and their families. When a shocking occurrence of terrorism, like 9/11, occurs, people like Hasan are not only as devastated as any other citizen, they’re also forced to stand by as strangers make threatening phone calls.
In his special, Hasan relates the often-unaddressed existence of polite racism that is abundant in mainstream society. Bigotry can and does go beyond violent and openly hateful actions, where so-called good people – those who welcome you to their home and even confess their fondness for you – can turn around and suddenly reject you. In Hasan’s case, this came to be on prom night when he showed up to the doorstep of his white crush’s home only to have her mother, a woman who had always treated him well in the past, inform him that her daughter would be going to the dance with another boy… since they planned on taking a lot of family photos.
These displays of racism are a disheartening reality for a significant faction of America’s population, and thanks to Hasan we don’t get to claim ignorance any longer. Still, even with this bleak actuality he gives us hope for a more accepting future. Namely, Hasan tells us that after a number of years passed he confronted the girl in question. But the moment of justice the audience is holding their breath for is not satisfying in the way we expect. While she does shift the blame to her mother’s closed-mindedness, she goes on to explain that her memory of prom night helped her later find the courage to reject her mother’s racial discrimination. Hasan comes to realize that he has to forgive her and move on, and that people can grow out of their ignorance.
Hasan powerful storytelling in his Netflix special could make him the king of conscious comedy. In general, a successful comedian is one who can make you laugh, but Hasan has proven there’s no reason we can’t use comedy to both unite us in universal joy and challenge us to reflect on social issues at the same time. Although Hasan Minaj: Homecoming King isn’t the cure for racism, it’s definitely a powerful step in the right direction.