Minhaj tackles social issues with style and grace, telling his own story...
Comedy is, almost by definition, an effort to avoid a hurt. The funniest people are often the most damaged. Stand-up, therefore, has always tended to examine the lives of other people, not the comedian. The comedian comments on his observations but, historically, the jokes are about the Jews, the women, the blacks, or the gays.
Hasan Minhaj's standup is defined by his willingness to show the audience his pain. As an Indian immigrant growing up in a mostly white neighborhood in California, he's experienced his share of racism. Every joke is at his own expense and the set-ups end with an observation on contemporary America as often as they do with a punchline. Minhaj's standup is the first I've experienced that I wasn't disappointed at moments in which I wasn't laughing. There were laughs of course - copious amounts of them - but the comedy is used as relief for his more introspective philosophizing and the fact that you aren't disappointed by that is what transcends his stand-up to an art piece.
Instead of complaining about the newfound expectations of their audience, like so many comedians have, Hasan Minhaj has used the raising of the bar as a challenge. Instead of shying away from political correctness and social justice, Minhaj is diving in, headfirst. Most importantly, Minhaj tackles social issues with style and grace, telling his own story instead of speculating into the stories of others. My favorite line, perhaps because I relate so heavily to it, is when he describes the difference between american and immigrants chastising their children; "Americans hit their kids on the arm and bruise their bodies, immigrants slap you across the face and bruise your soul." As I'm writing that, I realize it sounds more sad than funny but just watch the stand up and you'll understand. It's hilarious.
Minhaj's standup perfectly mirrors the sentiment of my favorite tweet in recent history about millennials:
Millennials are dying for some form of entertainment to distract them from the constant bombardment of social issues that permeate every facet of society. The difficulty arises because they're also socially conscious enough to realize that ignoring a problem entirely only compounds said problem. Hasan Minhaj was able to stare down society's tribulations and make his audience hopeful that those evils could be solved. He was able to do this with humor.
Minhaj uses comedy as a healing tool instead of an accidental weapon. Just like The Daily Show with John Stewart, from which Minhaj's career in comedy truly started, Minhaj sees comedy as more than just a vehicle for laughs. John Stewart used comedy to provide information into politics, Hasan Minhaj is using comedy to encourage empathy. Minhaj doesn't ask his audience to pity his upbringing; rather, he pleads with them to examine their own lives in relation to his and reflect on the dissimilarities.
On the surface, Hasan Minhaj's Netflix comedy special is a rollercoaster of emotions bolstered by hilarious comedic relief. Beneath the surface, his story is a cavernous epic filled with twists and turns you'd never expect. Minhaj is an up and coming artist I would keep an eye on as much as you do with Aziz Ansari and Donald Glover/Childish Gambino. I've watched the special three times; you owe it to yourself to watch it at least once.