Comedian Hasan Minhaj spoke to a packed crowd Monday at the IU Auditorium, integrating humor into the telling of his life and discussing the importance of authenticity in comedy.
Minhaj told the story about how he found comedy and explained its importance in permitting him to not only communicate ideas as a form of social commentary but to also relay his own personal experiences. He said he was inspired by a computer science teacher who encouraged him to join speech and debate because he was always getting in trouble for talking during class.
Minaj discovered stand-up comedy his freshman year at the University of California, Davis, after his roommate illegally downloaded stand-up comedy routines. Minhaj said he noticed key similarities between stand up and speech and debates, and he said comedians use humor as a strategy for making arguments.
As he began opening for comedians like John Mulaney, who he invited to his campus, Minhaj said he realized comedy was a forum to open up about issues he couldn’t previously talk about extensively, such as politics, sexuality and religion.
“It felt really empowering to me,” Minhaj said.
Minhaj started a sketch comedy show with friends in Los Angeles after he graduated and was struggling to find work. The show launched him into fame after some of his content went viral, leading him to audition for “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. Minhaj said he credits taking control of his own agency that led him to achieve such success.
In his performance, Minhaj summed up why stand-up comedy allows him to communicate authentically.
“Comedy is about honesty,” Minhaj said.
Minhaj’s role as a comedian has given him the opportunity to advocate for social change. He spoke at the 2016 Radio & Television Correspondents Dinner, testified before Congress in 2019 and spoke at the 2017 White House Correspondents Dinner, addressing topics such as gun control and student loan debt.
After serving as a correspondent for “The Daily Show” from 2014 to 2018, Minhaj made a deal with Netflix to produce a news comedy show centered on in-depth analysis of contemporary political and social issues. “The Patriot Act” premiered on Netflix in October 2018.
Exploring issues ranging from affirmative action to the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashogg, Minhaj said he was outspoken in an attempt to use comedy as a tool to instill civic virtue.
“We take really complex matter and distill it down,” Minhaj said.
Minhaj joked about everything ranging from cultural identity to his love life in an interview after his keynote speech with co-moderators and IU Union Board Lectures Directors Uma Natesan and Suraj Bokil.
Bokil said Natesan wanted someone of South Asian identity to speak at IU because the Union Board lectures have not included many people from that background.
“It was something that was very valuable to her and something that we thought would also be impactful for the IU community to bring in someone of a different identity, for someone to give a different experience and talk about their different experiences,” Bokil said.
As Bokil co-moderated the Q-and-A session with Natesan following Minhaj’s keynote speech, Minhaj used the interview as an opportunity to develop a bit focused on Bokil’s relationship status, to the amusement of the audience.
“I was not expecting that,” Bokil said. “It was something that I felt prepared for and something that felt fun in the moment. I loved interacting with him on stage and even talking to him after the show. We were there to see some really great conversations.”
As Minhaj relayed the experience of growing up being a South Asian American as a critical component of his identity, Bokil said he believes Minhaj’s genuine recount of his experiences are what make him relatable to everyone, regardless of ethnic identity.
“He’s someone that is relatable,” Bokil said. “You could sense that with the audience with the laughter that he brought and the audience clapping, making it entertaining and informative at the same time.”
Hasan’s authentic and laid-back approach made his talk entertaining to IU students, master’s student Srinagh Chalasani said.
“It was interesting because he was sharing his life experiences and mixing it up with humor,” Chalasani said.
As a current student himself, Chalasani was able to appreciate Minhaj’s focus on his days spent in higher education.
“He talked about a lot of his quality experiences and how he spent his time back in college,” Chalasani said.