I will be honest, I wish I could have dived more into this review but I didn’t, at the risk of giving out spoilers.
When we think of the kings of comedy, we think of George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, or Bill Hicks however, Comedy has no racial boundaries. Arguably, it was Russell Peters, who broke the barrier for Brown comedians everywhere and showed that Indians could be funny. Subsequently, Aziz Ansari will do the same as not only a young, talented, house-hold name, and now anyone who doesn’t know him is considered living under a rock.
And now, we welcome a new Indian Comedian that is taking the world by storm. Though he is perhaps well known for his contributions to the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, he most recently, was the speaker for the White House Correspondent’s Dinner and did an impeccable job by speaking his mind. For those that enjoyed his 25-27 minute speech, I would encourage them to check out his hour long, Netflix special: “Homecoming King”. In this special, it’s a bit unorthodox in that it’s not like traditional stand up shows. For one, the show is more about his life and a specific story as opposed to observational humor and abstract thoughts.
Nevertheless, Minhaj dives deep into his memories and does his best to recreate those moments for the audience so they may empathize with his experiences as a descendent of Indian immigrants and struggling to maintain the culture he has been reared with and simultaneously try to fit in with others who don’t share the same culture and/or beliefs. It is evident early on in the special, how much he cares about his family, despite their disagreements. Moreover, he demonstrates that his family is almost no different than any other traditional family. Specifically, there is a generational gap of understanding between parents and their children in that they can’t seem to agree on how to handle discrimination.
For Minhaj, as a born citizen, he believes that Islamophobia should not have to apply to him because he has done nothing wrong. This is a fair and understandable perspective. On the other hand, his father (like most immigrants) believes they should take discrimination with a grain of salt; as this is something uncontrollable and inevitable when arriving to a new country. This is hard to grasp because, while we can acknowledge that there are terrorists that claim to commit horrific acts in the name of their religion, we do a disservice by associating other Muslims with them, especially since Islam has nothing to do with terrorism in the first place. Furthermore, that ordinary Muslim citizens should have to answer for their actions is ludicrous There’s an article where Aziz Ansari tackled this issue with Rupert Murdoch, perfectly, saying how unreasonable it is for Muslims to have to give press releases or publicly denounce terroristic acts when they clearly had nothing to do with it. In addition to that, Christians are never asked to publicly denounce horrendous acts that have been committed in the name of Christ.
Moving on though, Minhaj also goes on to talk about racism in two different forms: the first is when you’re put in a state of “fear for your own life” kind of racism and the racism “with a smile”. I’d like to tell the story here, but at the risk of it being a spoiler for the show, I’d rather not. Instead, go watch it for yourself to see the example he used. I would be remiss however, if I did not elaborate on what those two types of racism signify though. The former is self-explanatory: being constantly harassed due to your color, creed, or sexual orientation to the point where you are never sure if even the menial errands you need to take care of will be accomplished because your safety is at risk. For Arabs or South Asians, who are descendants from countries with a majority Muslim population,, often they will resort to changing their names in an effort to hide their identity and not cause conflict, so Mohammad will go by Moe, or Abdullah will go as Andy in order to not draw attention to themselves. I am guilty of this as well, personally, but this will be for another blog.
The latter type of racism, is a bit more complex, but when I say “with a smile”, of course I’m not talking about someone who will use a racial slur and grin. I’m referring to the type of people who will sit and laugh with someone “different” but will not announce it publicly or allow their children to associate with them out in the open because they are afraid of people judging THEM. This sort of thing happens when someone “acts” differently. For example, I would always get judged for my love for Bollywood movies and the music, speaking Urdu with my mother, or even eating indo-paki food. Therefore, people would laugh at me and think I was this foreign weirdo, despite the fact that I was born and raised in the U.S. and English was my first language. Thus, I became so ashamed of who I was, that I wouldn’t embrace it out in the open. Even being friends with other “brown” kids in school (where we were perhaps the only ones there) made me hesitant because I was afraid of people judging us or saying SOMETHING. And being Muslim, just added more things for people to judge me by. The thing is, I was not even a practicing Muslim either nor did I choose to be because I just didn’t want to give people a reason to say anything, pretty much. So like Hasan Minhaj, I just kept it cool, tried to steer clear from danger. And just dealt with it because I figured that’s just the kind of things that happened and as a descendent of an immigrant, I had to deal with it.
However, there is a happy little epilogue to Hasan Minhaj’s story where he ends up pursuing a dream and the dream comes true. He is a successful comedian, married the love of his life, works a great job, and is becoming a house-hold name, all the while he is a Muslim. He tells these stories and is unashamed of who he is. We can all take a lesson from his story, that life is like Biryani (Chicken and Rice but with indo-paki spices. Look it up. It’s fantastic!) where you move the bad stuff out of the way and bring the good parts closer to you.
In “Homecoming King”, all the scenes (i.e., jokes) are hard to distinguish what is bad because all the parts, in my opinion, are good. As a comic, Minhaj takes a kind of Christopher Titus approach in delving deep into his memories and connecting with the audience with his experiences. Simultaneously, Minhaj does this with a giant, contagious smile and tells the stories as vividly as one can desire. Who can ask for anything more? Now go watch it!
Written on the 27th of May, 2017