The trailer of The Patriot
Act with Hasan Minhaj, the comedian’s latest Netflix show, features him coming on the stage, replete with its diamond-like shape and sharp edges, and telling the studio audience, “I wanted to do a show about politics, news and culture. The difference is gonna be that, I’m doing it in the inside of an Apple watch.” After his exit as a correspondent with The Daily Show (where he worked from 2014 to April this year), Minhaj has been keeping busy with the production of Patriot Act..., a late-night talk show
featuring a ‘brown’ host for the very first time.
The show is something he has been working on for the last two years, he tells us over a phone conversation from his home in New York, as his toddler wails in the background. “Fatherhood, huh,” laughs the comedy star of the Peabody-winning stand-up special, Homecoming King (2017).
First among equals
Born to a Muslim family from Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, the 33-year-old of Indian-American descent is not just another South Asian comedian on an already crowded landscape, but one of the sharpest voices in comedy today. Hosting a 32-episode political satire, with one episode out every week, might seem like a daunting task, but Minhaj has it covered.
“I really get to put myself out there and tell the world how I really feel and what I really think about politics, culture and news. It is a feeling that is both liberating and nerve-wracking at the same time, because you don’t know how it really is going to turn out,” he says.
With three episodes released already — one on Affirmative Action (a breakdown on how a lawsuit by Asian American students against Harvard could kill affirmative action), another called Saudi Arabia (in the wake of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death), and the most recent one being Amazon (an analysis of what makes it one of the largest online retailers in the world) — the feedback, so far, has been great.
“The overwhelmingly positive response from everyone around the world has just been incredible.
Comedy impacts people and I am glad the show has had an impact in the real world,” affirms Minhaj, referring to the Saudi Arabia episode, where he pointed out the racist language used by the US military in their welcome booklet, meant to introduce service members to the culture and customs of Saudi Arabia. “The US military issued a public apology and the phrase has been removed from the booklet, I’m told. It is great that the show made this kind of an impact already,” he adds.
Make a difference
What makes Patriot Act... different from other talk shows, we wonder, especially considering that not only is the comedian a former alumnus of a talk show himself, but also that the audience demographic is almost the same as The Daily Show? “During the research phase, I was warned by friends and co-workers from the industry that comedy was a very crowded landscape. What newer, interesting thing was I providing? That thought stuck with me for a long time.
Even in the last six months when we were in pre-production, I kept thinking about that over and over again,” says the political science graduate.
If you’re still wondering what is different, Minhaj refers to it as “nuanced content,” adding that he made certain observations through the course of his last four years at The Daily Show. “I feel that, for the longest time, a lot of issues have not been given the kind of depth and recording that normally gets done on American late night shows. I have observed that people are really hungry for that, and they are going to appreciate that,” he says.
The comedian elaborates, “I thought long and hard about how to make it different from a variety show. The idea of a variety show is built around integrating entertainment in it. Variety shows, for me growing up in the 1990s and the early-2000s, was really around the traditional cable TV model or local TV business model. There will be acted-out content that will lead to a commercial break. That is why you have a variety show that goes on for about an hour, interspersed with commercial breaks.”
Things, however, are different now, with the advent of online streaming. “Streaming has become more popular now, and the audience for it is larger. The knowledge these people have has increased significantly, sure, but the attention span has diminished — and how! So here I am, wanting to give the audience a tailor-made, bespoke experience that says, ‘hey I am gonna do what I do best. I respect your time.’ So the episodes on Patriot Act... average between 22-24 minutes, minus any commercial breaks.”