“Daily Show” correspondent asks our generation to join the discussion at KPU event
Hasan Minhaj uses his personal and comedic experiences to encourage college students to speak up
“Daily Show” correspondent and stand-up comedian Hasan Minhaj spoke Wednesday night in Bender Arena, encouraging students to engage in discussion about sometimes tenuous topics, such as race in order to push the United States forward.
Before the event, The Eagle had a chance to sit down with Minhaj for a one-on-one interview to talk about his position on “The Daily Show” and why his job matters.
“I think every comedian is given certain superpowers and the more you perform, you start to learn like what those things are,” Minhaj said during the interview. “And I sort of approach my, say field pieces, with like a level of, sort of like deer in the headlights curiosity, of like ‘Oh whoa, that’s crazy!’ Let me be the foil. Let me look like the idiot, and then their point becomes that much more salient.”
Minhaj stressed the importance of the 2016 presidential election throughout his set, while also presenting his opinion on the presidential candidates by casually calling Trump “a racist cheeto” and “orange Voldemort.” As for Hillary Clinton, Minhaj used an analogy in which Bernie Sanders was the cool substitute and Clinton was the stiff teacher.
“She’d be like, ‘Look kids! I can whip and nae nae,’” he said.
Minhaj highlighted the ignorance of voters in this year’s election, especially at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. At the convention, Minhaj asked Trump supporters about his racist policies.
“I asked [them], ‘Do you think he will be good for me?’ And most of them said, ‘He doesn’t mean what he says,’” Minhaj recounted to the audience.
The racist rhetoric in this election season has brought up a lot of hatred, which Minhaj said he feels is detrimental to the country.
“When we stand together as Americans, that’s when we make progress,” he said,
Minhaj started his talk with an anecdote about when he first learned about race in his childhood with a story about elementary school. “In third grade, other people wrote, ‘I want to be an astronaut!’ I wrote, ‘I want to be white,’” he said.
One main tenant of Minhaj’s talk was that young people have an obligation to discuss heated topics, even uncomfortable ones such as white privilege, something he says he does through his comedy.
Minhaj chooses to cover weighted issues, like Islamophobia, in his “Daily Show” interviews and bits.
“I always approach [stories to cover on the Daily Show] with ... what is a story that I feel like America should totally hear,” he said in his interview with The Eagle. “Because those are the stories that interest me the most. Whenever America isn’t sort of living up to its ideals that we take tremendous pride in, like equality in treatment of all people, I genuinely get really, really interested and passionate about those issues.”
Stories involving politics seem to pique Minhaj’s interest, partially due to the fact that he has a degree in political science from the University of California-Davis.
Minhaj said he made the switch from political science to comedy after watching Chris Rock’s “Never Scared” on Napster in 2004, in which Rock criticizes the Bush administration and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The former law-school hopeful then realized that all the subjects he wanted to discuss could be funny.
“I don’t think [comedy and politics are] actually that different …I did speech and debate in high school, and stand up comedy to me is funny speech and debate ... Because you can be poignant and be funny and show the absurdity of [politics] by being funny.” Minhaj told The Eagle.
Although there were plenty of laughs during Minhaj’s speech, he took time to talk about some serious topics as well. One of these was the story of how he and his father dealt with racist threats made against them following September 11, including when a stranger called their house and threatened them.
This stranger then threw rocks at the family car parked outside and broke all the windows. Though Minhaj said he was enraged and went looking for the perpetrators, his father remained calm and swept up the glass. Minhaj’s father offered up a solemn phrase that has stuck with the comedian.
“Hasan, these things happen,” his father told him.
Minhaj said his father said this in response to the idea that racism was a price immigrants had to pay as a part of living in America. The comedian believes differently from his father though, and said during his speech that he doesn’t want to stay complacent.
“Some believe the amount of melanin you have determines how much you can complain. But [I believe] the beauty of our country is in its ability to take criticism,” he said.
Minhaj told The Eagle that his stories are meant to encourage young people to use their talents to help change the world.
“The piece of advice I give to every person that’s from any marginalized community, I firmly believe this: if we don’t write our narrative, if we don’t tell our story, it will be told for us.”