I never thought that I’d stand in the freezing rain for an hour only to have my phone locked in a weird case for a brown man. Imagine.
Alas, for Hasan Minhaj, I’d do it again. He is unfortunately my problematic fave.
As we lined up outside the Queen Elizabeth Theater in downtown Vancouver, I managed to see every single brown person that lives in the city.
The show began with a couple of funny opening acts that didn’t land all that well, given how wet and miserable everyone was. All that anger in a room full of brown people… yikes.
When Minhaj came on stage, there was an uproar in the room—uncles and aunties actually standing up, clapping, and cheering, as though we were at a med school graduation.
We had no idea where he was going with this special—after all everyone had to have their phones locked in weird cases so that no one could film parts of the show, which is understandable—he knows the demographics of his audience and their abilities, after all.
This special was not what you’d usually expect from Minhaj, who usually goes after political figures, and particularly those who are… evil. Instead, this show took a sharp personal turn that went into his life behind Patriot Act, and how that shaped his trajectory in comedy.
He spoke of his fertility issues with his wife Beena, and shit on the Indian doctors produced in the Caribbean, which must have certainly struck a nerve with the proud parents sitting in the audience.
Though his comedy is not for everyone, Minhaj’s storytelling is captivating. When a cop slammed him on the hood of a car outside a mosque, enacting the Patriot Act, he made fun of the cop, cracking up the entire parking lot. The way he tells this story, his infamous hand gestures and everything, will have you tearing up from laughter. Then he confronts you with the reality; he got away with it, but a Black kid in America would not—hooking you in to illuminate a real issue.
If I were Archie Andrews from Riverdale, I would say that you haven’t known the triumphs and defeats of life if you haven’t experienced the epic highs and lows of… Hasan Minhaj’s storytelling.
He joked about his constant thirst for clout, and how he does not follow Malala back on Instagram, which is just… unhinged. In the same way, he talked about how this quest for clout resulted in a harrowing incident involving his daughter, seemingly painting a bull’s eye on his thorax. This resulted in him having some hard conversations with his wife Beena on his work with Patriot Act.
While talking about his risky moves as a defaulted political commentator, a lot of this special seems almost like an explanation as to why he took a step back from Patriot Act, or at least commentary that was adjacent to the show, without ever explicitly saying it.
It is entirely valid to criticize this move—few in the realm of entertainment engaged with politics the way that Minhaj did, simultaneously raising the political consciousness of various communities of colour. Now that he has this clout that he criticizes himself for, it may be easier for him to take a backseat and go back to doing what is comfortable for him and his family.
While I do hold this opinion to a certain extent, I also don’t know that he owes people the commentary we want from him. For many, I’m sure, this could be the start of other brown non-men taking on such roles, bringing a nuance that we have yet to see in our communities.
Then again, which other brown person can show up to do a set at Queen Elizabeth Theater and say, “Fuck the queen,” to be met with voracious applause?
But much like every other community, the South Asian community is not a monolith. Many brown people adore Minhaj, while others are rightfully angry given allegations regarding Patriot Act creating a toxic workplace for women of colour.
While I can appreciate him for everything he’s done, my position as a brown dude comes with many blindspots, which I readily acknowledge and challenge myself on.
I could continue to talk about how it wasn’t necessarily Minhaj who was disrespecting women at the show, but he certainly had the power to stop the cultivation of such a toxic workplace culture. And while I like to believe that he is better than this, it does suck to know how patriarchy and white supremacy can still slip through the cracks in spaces like Patriot Act that were trying to remedy these issues, and hurt brown women, disabled, queer and marginalized brown people too.
It’s complicated, and there are certainly ways to hold our problematic faves accountable while enjoying everything they bring to the table. This is all to say that what Minhaj does with Patriot Act is arguably pretty important for many South Asians.
As the article in Vulture points out—it is possible to both appreciate what this show does for us, continue to enjoy the comedic genius of Minhaj, and hold these spaces accountable for being hypocritical, like former employees have done.
Minhaj is certainly moving away from his political commentary. He recently announced the launch of his new production company, 186K Films, which has already started working on their first feature film ‘For The Culture’, a comedy that speaks to the gaps between Indians and the diaspora.
If I had a safety concern that involved my daughter’s life, I too would make rapid changes in my work that would cause me grief. And while this shift may be disappointing to some, Minhaj has certainly paved the way for other South Asians to take on such roles in the ~zeitgeist~ that may be more risqué—and I can’t wait to see more underrepresented community members get to that level.
As I keep this in mind, I hope that his next special features less men, and also takes place in less than 4 years, because I want to see brown people lining up outside the Queen Elizabeth Theatre again, just to be that meta.
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