This Is Not for Tears
Really appreciate this nuanced yet clear take on the situation. Hasan’s brand has been (or maybe become) truth telling - whether about the experience of Brown kids of immigrants or about the workings of government and society. Like you said, those of us on the margins already have difficulty being heard and believed - on the other hand, it’s a heavy burden to carry the weight of so many communities and not be granted the same grace to slip and fall that non marginalized communities have. Will continue to support him and also keep pushing for better! Thanks for this one.
There’s a paradigm shift happening it started with Hannah Gasby’s Nanette. This business with Hasan I feel is part of that shift. Comedy is changing wonder how we as comic will navigate this change of what will make the populist laugh. With the emergence of more neurodivergent people coming to terms with their ADHD and Autism. I’m both newly diagnosed last year. We’re literally thinkers everything that comes out of your mouth we take as truth. Masking as a Neurotypical for 43 yrs and integrating this new information has not been easy. Generally humor goes over our heads. We don’t get jokes. Generally, but the jokes we get is just different. I think humor is just shifting. How do we make a more neurodivergent population laugh now?
Naturally, many comics are quick-witted. But I think I'm faster than most: I call myself "The Fastest Pun in the West." The story I use to illustrate how witty I am goes like this...
In Hamilton, Ohio, my parents, brothers, and I were at a small get-together. We were all standing by the door, about to leave as it was getting late. Our friend, Gordon, used a colloquialism I hadn't yet heard:
"You're about to turn into a pumpkin?"
Without missing a beat, probably two seconds later, I replied, "Good one, GORD."
Gord? Gourd? Pumpkin? Get it? Anyone? This thing on?
OK, so we can all debate how funny that is, but nobody could reasonably make the claim that that wasn't at least witty... and hella impressive for a teenager.
If you found out that never happened, or that it actually took me 10 seconds to respond with that, you'd rightfully feel cheated. Because I'm not using it to show how FUNNY I am... I'm making the rather outrageous claim that I'm actually faster than most professional comedians. According to the unwritten rules of our craft, a story like that has to be true or you wouldn't like it.
"AND ANOTHER THING!"...
OK, so I've obviously come out to defend my friend the best I can while still providing my real thoughts. I've texted a few mutual comic friends of ours to tell them how important it is that some comics come out and speak on behalf of Hasan.
To my knowledge, the only comedian who has is Whoopi Goldberg. I watched the clip; she and the other hoochies on "The View" (Viewchies?) gave their usual, broad-based, shallow take. The only one who seemed to make much sense was Ana Navarro. Whoopi is increasingly kooky and irrelevant, especially as someone so old. And before you think I'm coming down on women (ya gotta admit "Viewchies" is pretty funny), allow me to say the same thing about two of my heroes, Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld.
Rock had once said something like, "These comics come up to me to talk about their 'careers.' I can't imagine going up to Robin or Rodney at The Comedy Store to talk about my 'career.'"
Seinfeld once said something like, "These comics today want to tell you everything about their lives. Growing up, we didn't know anything about Johnny Carson or George Carlin."
OMG, how OLD do y'all sound? Have you ever heard of the concept of evolution? Things evolve, things change. Comedy IS much more personal these days. We can come up with only so many "three guys walk into a bar" jokes; moreover, the merger of mass media and social media shows us how comedians (and non-comedians) are fishing from the same pond all day. By the time Fallon, Kimmel, and Colbert tell a Trump or Biden joke, 300 other tweets about it have already been shared.
That's why we're all going inwards: because our stories are our own (or totally made up, right, Hasan? Hey Now!). Moreover, celebrities are far more accessible, so maybe Rock couldn't walk up to Williams or Dangerfield in the '80s and maybe we didn't know that much about Carson or Carlin in, again, the '80s, but these examples are from 40 years ago.
I love these guys, but we need to hear from the younger generation, the Millennials like Minhaj or even Zoomers. Or at LEAST Xers. But you just heard from me. So, there.
Why does it matter if the anthrax story didn’t happen to Hasan Minhaj when that sort of thing does happen to South Asian and Muslim Americans?
Great question — and thank you so much for all the support here as well as through direct messages. Here's my answer: There are very few comedians who can base an hour-long act on what it’s like to be them in the world. Don’t get it twisted: of course, we as standup comics have a point-of-view and are showing you the world through our eyes. But Rajiv Satyal isn’t in your everyday lives the way that, say, Dave Chappelle is, who’s probably the pinnacle of this type of approach: we care about what's happening to Dave Chappelle in America.
So, when Hasan Minhaj conquers not only standup comedy but also appoints himself as one of the leading voices of our South Asian community, we’re personally vested in his success. We’re watching.
I’ve been quite vocal about the fact that I personally have experienced very little racism, whether growing up in Ohio or living here in California (actually encountering more in LA than in Cincinnati). But I’m an anomaly and I’ve heard enough stories told first-hand by my fellow South Asians that I’m well aware that both East and South Asian people in the States absolutely experience racism, with Muslim Americans probably taking it the hardest.
To understand why the fact that Hasan Minhaj apparently fabricated stories is hitting us so hard, I have to point you to the actor Ke Huy Quan. Not Everything-Everywhere-All-at-Once Quan from 2022 but The-Goonies Quan from 1985. His character, Data, and his crew are looking for One-Eyed Willy’s treasure. Along the way, they find a skeleton who (which?) turns out to be an explorer named Chester Copperpot. Data flips out, asking, “Oh, God. If HE didn't make it out, and he was an expert, what about us?!”
We hold the belief, whether flawed or not, that if we just work hard enough and become very successful, we can outrun racism. As kids, we learned about Black Holes, and I have always been fascinated by — and terrified of — the definition: “A black hole is a place in space where gravity pulls so much that even light can not get out.” Racism is the black hole and the light is our success. We’re all running.
This is why Minhaj’s most polemical stories need to be True and not just True-to-Life. It's not fair to insert yourself throughout all of these news events like you're a Brown Forrest Gump. Of course it’s believable that SOME South Asian might’ve received anthrax in the mail. But if Minhaj, with all of his fame, fortune, and all of the protection that comes with it, receives anthrax in the mail... if even HE can't get to One-Eyed Willy's treasure... if even HIS light can't escape the black hole... it’s that much scarier.
In no way am I arguing that we SHOULD have to attain success to beat bigotry. But the fact that Minhaj did NOT receive anthrax in the mail is GOOD news and it means perhaps America isn’t AS terribly racist. However, that doesn’t fit his overall narrative. And this is a real-life example of why it’s dangerous when a country is as divided as ours is right now. It shouldn’t be about Emotional Truths; it should be about… Data.
*Layer on top of this the fact that Hasan's hot. OK, so I write that for comedic effect. But to borrow Jerry Seinfeld’s cadence: You ever notice how comedians aren’t good-looking? There’s a reason for that: audiences have to buy that you have problems and it’s just harder to imagine someone that much better-looking than you having it rough. Historically, there have been very few exceptions. Now, there’s indeed a new crop of wildly successful comics who are: Iliza Shlesinger, Nikki Glazer, Whitney Cummings, Matt Rife, Matt Rife, and also Matt Rife. Hasan is the full package: smart, smooth, well-dressed, good-looking… Hasan Minhaj is ASPIRATIONAL in a way that so many of us are not. I don’t mind the way I look, but I don’t think too many kids are looking in the mirror and thinking, “I hope I, too, grow up to be short and bald.” Hasan so much looks the part of the role model that even young Black and White boys want to emulate him. He’s the spokesperson the Brown community wants.