In his first comedy special in five years, and first Netflix outing since Patriot Act wrapped in 2020, Hasan Minhaj picks up where he left off, sometimes quite literally providing updates and commentary on several of his past episodes.
HASAN MINHAJ: THE KING’S JESTER: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: The pithy Netflix description of his new special says to expect jokes on fertility, fatherhood and freedom of speech.
Sporting an all-khaki ensemble against a massive screen that changes colors and displays graphics, photos and video clips, Minhaj gets personal, sharing stories about the complications he endured trying to start a family with his wife, then trying to resettle with them in Greenwich, Conn., before going back in time to relive a teenage encounter with a white man at the family mosque who may or may not have been an undercover FBI agent. Minhaj also shares the backstories on experiences that shaped multiple episodes of Patriot Act, including a teenage encounter with an undercover FBI agent in the wake of 9/11, a misguided attempt to interview the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, calling out Jared Kushner at a Time100 banquet, and a desire to turn the tables on one of the other fathers at his daughter’s school.
What Comedy Specials Will It Remind You Of?: It’s half personal one-man show, as in his first special (Homecoming King), and half a bonus commentary behind-the-scenes postscript on episodes of his Patriot Act series.
Memorable Jokes: Thanks to the giant screen, reminiscent of his Patriot Act set, all of the stories referenced above become more memorable in Minhaj’s retelling of them.
For example, when he talks about being a 16-year-old high-school junior in 2002, we not only see a photo of Minhaj with his school’s basketball team, but also catch up with one of his teammates, Will Moroski, via an Instagram account that Minhaj can’t keep scrolling out of jealousy. Moroski had 34.2K followers the morning of the special’s premiere, so we’ll see what effect Minhaj’s special causes there. All of that pivots to a photo of Marvel-muscled comedian Kumail Nanjiani, which causes Minhaj to freak out even more, breaking out into impersonations of both Nanjiani and Aziz Ansari. It’s all fun and games until the teenaged Minhaj got bum-rushed by the police. On the one handcuffed hand, the tense moment provided Minhaj with his first big laugh in life that propelled him toward comedy. On the other hand, he also realized that if not for his humor, he might’ve ended up like too many other Muslim boys his age imprisoned due to forced confessions.
There’s another moment meant as a tangent in Minhaj’s story about meeting with the Saudis, but that hits harder thanks to the timing, where he’s comparing the treatment of Indians by the Saudis to their treatment by the British monarchy; how even his own mother has Hasan’s framed wedding photo placed next to a framed photo of the late Princess Di. But why?
Our Take: Minhaj has always been more of an engaging storyteller than a joke craftsman.
In this special, he remains in full control of the audience, masterfully pulling “awwwws” and applause breaks out of them with the greatest of ease.
Whether his DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) is really someone he knew growing up in Sacramento or not is beside the point. The audience hangs on his every word and pause, and roars their approval when Minhaj declares his wife was pregnant for the first time, even though that event happened several years ago.
What’s perhaps more insightful is finding out what makes Minhaj tick.
He’s not only willing to make fun of his style, saying “I do PowerPoint comedy,” and comparing his stage setup to “an LED skate park.” He’s also willing to pull back the curtain on why he named his show Patriot Act (hint: “A middle finger to Brother Eric”) and how his humor is still based on “being a smartass” regardless of whether it saved his life at 16 or imperils it at 36. He’s not afraid to admit that part of calling out dictators and unethical business executives is also about clout-chasing, how the likes, comments and shares online become addictive like “social media meth.”
But he’s also shrewd enough to recognize that dictators are paying attention to their publicly perceived and social-media reputations just as much as Will Smith, the angry Indian man Minhaj encounters at an event, or Minhaj himself.
And he loves his wife and daughter so much that when his jokes do cross the line to the point where his family feels threatened, he’ll take a step back. He doesn’t say as much, but perhaps that had as much to do with Patriot Act ending in 2020 as much as the pandemic did.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Minhaj remains very much an activist comedian, although he hedges his bets by acknowledging: “I don’t want to be the Tupac of comedy…If anything, I want to be the Puffy of comedy.” So don’t expect this to be the last you hear from Minhaj anytime soon. After all, the king’s jester lives to keep telling jokes.
Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat for his own digital newspaper, The Comic’s Comic; before that, for actual newspapers. Based in NYC but will travel anywhere for the scoop: Ice cream or news. He also tweets @thecomicscomic and podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories: The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.