Live Show with Hasan Minhaj
Preet: Ladies and gentlemen, Hasan Minhaj.
Hasan: Oh man.
Preet: Hi. Hey how are you?
Hasan: How the mighty have fallen.
Preet: Why you gotta start it like that?
Hasan: How great is this? You know you were one of the most powerful attorneys in the country and now you’re doing podcasts like a lowly comedian. I mean. I just love this.
Preet: Congratulations on your success.
Hassan: Thank you.
Preet: I thought the Big Sick was excellent. I’m like. You are my favorite. Muslim-American, Indian-American…. Comedic… That was you right?
Hasan: Yeah, Master of None season 2, streaming now.
Preet: We couldn’t get those guys.
Hasan: Oh good. OK.
Preet: It was very fun to prepare. So, ordinarily when I have a podcast, I have to read their books. Right. They have scholarship.
Hasan: With me…
Preet: It’s a compliment.
Hasan: OK. So you just had to go watch a couple of YouTube videos and I’m like yeah I get it. All right.
Preet: I was in my home office which is very unspectacular. And my wife was like, ‘why do you keep laughing?’ And like ‘I’m working.’ And I was watching the White House Correspondents Dinner that you hosted, some of your clips from the Daily Show. And I don’t know if people have seen it. Your Netflix special. Very well-named, very clever. “Homecoming King.” I thought it was it was funny but also moving and I don’t know that a lot of comedy does both things, makes you laugh hysterically. But also a little bit, you get a tear in your eye. I want to talk about some of the things that happened in your life. You talk about your dad. My dad is here. I want you to make him feel bad. You had a very tough Indian American immigrant father.
Preet: One of the things you said on the show that makes me laugh every time I hear it. Like your dad said, “What’s your favorite color?” / “Stanford!”
Preet: So describe a little bit what it was like to grow up in California with a really tough Indian American Dad.
Hasan: Yeah I mean you know just you are the Prodigal Son. You are the Simba to their Mufasa. You have to deliver the dream to pride rock. So you know, the classic Cardinal rules. No fun, no friends, no girlfriends. You can have fun in med school. That’s sort of the Trifecta with the golden rules. It’s like on the wall, I’ve got it, “no fun no friends no girlfriends.” I got it.
Preet: I know you didn’t quite mean it, but you said, like, with Indian parents. It’s like conditional love.
Hasan: Oh yeah yeah.
Preet: My parents are right here and. I’m trying to not make it as terrible… What do you mean conditional love?
Hasan: I think that you just have to check certain boxes.
Preet: Biology, chemisty..
Hasan: Yeah, yeah like certain families when there’s like five kids. It’s like it’s like a Desi family with five kids. And I’m like oh right! Like there was a few mess ups along the way. It’s kind of like when you watch a franchise and it doesn’t work out the first time they draft. You know like the Knicks, right? They haven’t had some good picks and then like, Porzingis, it worked out. So I think your younger brother was the Porzingis of your family.
Preet: He’s here too.
Hasan: No but let’s be honest you had the title for a long time.
Preet: Yeah I was good.
Preet: I became the United States attorney for the frickin’ Southern District of New York. Subpoena power..
Hasan: Dude, you were on track to be not crazy or not racist Jeff Sessions. You were on track to be that…. Sometimes, can I tell you a fun thing I do? I like to go to big firm holiday parties and then humble brag how I know you. So I’ll just like walk into like a Scadden holiday party and be like you guys know I know Preet Bharara, right? And just their pants, they have to change their pants immediately. I mean. They’re like, huh, what, billables?
Preet: Not any more. Now they’re like… The podcasting guy?
Hasan: And you know what’s crazy. This is true. You know with all the crazy stuff that’s going on right now I was able to set up the interview with Preet, people ask all the time, how did you do it? I slid into the DMs.
Preet: It’s true. You were my… You were my first DM. I was like Hasan Minhaj! Because I — You did the White House Correspondents Dinner thing. And I thought you were Kumail Nanjiani.
Preet: I was confused.
Hasan: He’s like “Kumail dropped his accent for this gig.” Pretty incredible.
Preet: Are you going to do a rom com?
Hasan: A rom com? Yeah I like what I’m doing right now. I like my job, if I get fired, then I’ll also start a podcast.
Preet: Can I be on it?
Hasan: It’ll be Still Tuned In, with Hasan Minhaj.
Preet: I would call it something different. So one of the things you talk about… if we could go back to my questions I scribbled on a sheet of paper. You talked about this issue that people have when they’re concerned about what other people think.
Preet: And you have this very poignant story. A white girl in your high school asks you to the prom.
Preet: And you and you show up there, and there’s another boy right who’s not..
Hasan: South Asian.
Preet: Not South Asian.
Hasan: He’s very Caucasian.
Preet: Talk about that for a second.
Hasan: Yeah I mean I’m one of the themes that I talk about on the show is just this idea of like “what will other people think.” And you know in Hindi we talk about it a lot, the idea of “log kya kahenge.” What are people going to say or what are people going to think. I think that is one of the biggest pressures that a lot of our generation… we deal with growing up. Where we feel that pressure from not only society but our parents. Sometimes we’re the victim of it and sometimes we’re the ones that perpetuate it, and that’s something I really wanted to explore and the special.
Preet: That’s bad.
Preet: When people say… my recollection of the show is this is a nice family from Nebraska and you’re not from Nebraska. You look the way you look and they said something like you wouldn’t be a good fit. We’ve gotta send pictures back to our family. Yeah and that’s terrible. Log kya kahenge. That’s racism. Racism of a sort. But are there some circumstances in which it’s actually good to worry what other people will think because that sets some standards. Like this president for example doesn’t seem to give a shit.
Preet: Log kya kahenge. He doesn’t care at all.
Hasan: Yeah. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks.
Preet: I wonder … is there something that’s good about that?
Hasan: I think that if you have the audacity of a mediocre white dude, that’s actually a good thing. Just the sort of unbridled confidence. I mean sometimes if you ever go to a nightclub, and you see white people dancing. I’m like I need to live like that! Just know with no care. That’s how you guys conquered the world just like. It’s… my… world! And like, people of color, right? Like I’ve got to shave, I’ve got to dress right, like I got to be on the beat, because the last thing I want to do is… Like it’s good not be worried about what people think. But the thing that you have to couple that with is empathy. So if you can have sort of that.. You can drink your Kanye juice in the morning but also have empathy? I think that’s a very very good combination. And I just I hope that my kids have like that audacity of equality. Of like, yeah, I can be whatever I want to be and people are going to judge me based on my merits, and I’m not going to accept being treated differently for anything else.
Preet: You said a thing in the show that really struck me, when you’re talking about this incident at the prom. Because these people were nice to you. You have been to their home. You had dinner with them. Yes. You, as you say in the show, and I don’t want to reveal too much, you had kissed their daughter.
Hasan: Right. And now you gave away the whole thing. All right.
Preet: They’re going to buy it any way, man.
Hasan: They’ll stream it. OK. Continue. Sorry, I’m sorry. I feel like sometimes we’re crossing the line too much.
Preet: Look, I have no power anymore. Do whatever you want. But you said this. I think this is a painful thing you said. You said. And I want to talk about it. I didn’t know people could be bigoted even as they’re smiling at you.
Preet: What does that mean? And what does that mean for people…who are trying to do something about bigotry?
Hasan: So, what’s interesting the thing that I wanted to talk about in the special is that I think a lot of times people…they think tolerance is enough. And I think when I…in the prom story, what I was trying to crossover is sort of like, full on acceptance and love. And so I think what happened there was just like, “Hey I’m OK with you, but hey not if you’re trying to… ‘not in my backyard.’
Preet: And the prom is too far.
Hasan: Yeah, that’s too much.
Preet: So you can come and you can have, like, the salisbury steak at our home.
Hasan: Yeah, that sort of racial tension isn’t isn’t new in this country right. I mean it’s like people are like “oh I’m not I’m not like bigoted or I’m not racist,” but hey if so-and-so married your son or daughter, well, it’s like “easy!” That to me is love and sort of being willing to share family is like, that’s the true testament of like, “Are you really colorblind in your acceptance of people.”
Preet: So how do you get people to change their views? I mean do you think of comedy as a tool for that, or is comedy just to make people laugh? You can’t be preaching all the time. You don’t do that. You’re not a prosecutor and you’re not a proselytizer. You do comedy right. You said a thing once you said, “jokes for jokes sake are kind of meaningless to me. I understand the value of them but it doesn’t speak to me as much. You can lace your argument with jokes but tell me why you’re presenting this argument? What does it mean?” So how important is it to you as a professional trying to make your way, in your specials and on the Daily Show, to have meaning in your comedy as opposed to just making people laugh.
Hasan: Yeah I think, the biggest thing that we talk about at the Daily Show, like and this started from Jon’s era, is it’ll start in the 9:15 meeting and it’ll be, ‘what’s your take?’ So we’re all in like WhatsApp groups and text groups, where people are exchanging news articles. Did you see this did you see that? Did you hear about this and your take or your position on the matter… That’s what makes our show what it is.
Preet: So I don’t know what a take is..
Hasan: It is an argument
Preet: A point of view.
Hasan: A clear point of view. So I’ll give an example like this, is this is a take that I did. Like obviously the big election in Alabama. Roy Moore. Right. And I was like this is the take, the argument, is like god damn, like the Republican Party really is the mafia. Like if you give your loyalty, and kiss the ring. Come one come all, racist, sexist, pedophile. They will protect you right there like standing there. They’re like. “Hold, hold, don’t budge! Iceberg coming! It doesn’t matter.” So I was like, damn. ISIS should join the Republican Party. And then Trump would be like, “Yeah they’re misunderstood. You know ISIS they’re tough. They’re tough on crime.” And… And so like that. But it’s setting up the argument.. And then you can have all the sugar. So to me jokes are really easy, jokes are super easy, the easiest part of the whole thing.
Preet: Do you think. Do you think less of people who have. And you have a lot of talent. Less of people who have your type of transformative, transcendent ability to speak to people through jokes.
Hasan: Yeah right.
Preet: And through stories, and your special, and comedy. Do you think less of people who do that only to make people laugh?
Hasan: No I —
Preet: In other words given the time that we’re in, does every comedian have to have a message or an argument, or not?
Hasan: I just think right now we’re living in a time where cerebral a sexy. Like remember 10 years ago…
Preet: Thank God.
Hasan: Yeah dude. Preet..
Preet: For forty-five years, I’ve been a lawyer..
Hasan: Dude, you’re poppin. You understand. You could you could be like, “hey I’m a professor at NYU” and people would be like, what? There was a time. Do you remember this, ten years ago. It was the era of the man-baby. It was all like grown adults like in diapers. The Hangover. Zach Galifianakis…
Preet: You’re saying the age of the jock is dead?
Hasan: Yeah, but not the jock, of just like. Every story was just like, “I’m an oaf. I’m 35 years old. I don’t know what I’m doing. And then guy pulls a ridiculous, like, ridiculously attractive and really intelligent woman like Katherine Heigl and then they’ll be like, “All right you’re a loser. But I guess I’ll go for you!” And it was like completely unrealistic. “The Hangover” was like that, “Knocked Up” was like that. It was these completely unrealistic plots. And now we’re living in a time where reality is stranger than fiction. So like. We don’t need wig comedy right now. If order is restored in the Force and all that stuff. I think we’ll get back to like slapstick stuff too. But I think every comedian has their superpowers. Like that’s not my superpower.
Preet: What’s your superpower?
Hasan: I don’t know.
Preet: You don’t know? You definitely know. You want me to draw it out of you.
Hasan: No I think it. I think it’s more serious than it is silly. But it’s still silly at times.
Preet: Like x-ray vision…
Hasan: I don’t know, but you know what I mean. Like, my superpower is, I can tell serious stories and sort of like a funny way? Versus like guys who can just like get —
Preet: Like Kumail.
Hasan: Sure. Like Kumail. Versus guys who like, can do voices, impersonations. I can’t do that.
Preet: You can’t do voices? Is that going to hold you back?
Hasan: I don’t know.
Preet: I want you to succeed in white America.
Hasan: I think I’ll be ok. Are you… Did you talk to my dad before this? Like, this is like…Everything you’re doing…
Preet: He’s very proud of you.
Hasan: It’s like hey man, “you know this could all go away right?” Like I mean you better learn how to do impersonations.
Preet: I know it can happen!
Hasan: Anything is possible.
Preet: Here I’m like sitting on a magic carpet. With you.
Hasan: I can show you this world, Preet.
Preet: And all I have is this mug. This Stay Tuned mug. You talked about something in your show, and that it has some resonance today. You said you know growing up Muslim American, the hyphenation [Muslim-American], in Davis, California. Very far from Ground Zero. But you were a sophomore in college when 9/11 happened. And you said in the show and I’m assuming this is true, that after that you had to be worried about backlash. And your father said something like “Don’t tell anyone you’re Muslim.”
Preet: And some people did some nasty things to your family and to your house. So today we had a terrible event here. And I’ve heard from a lot of people that I know who are Muslim and not Muslim, and from various parts of the world. When you hear the first bit of news, that a bomb has gone off or there’s a shooter, an active, an operational terrorist somewhere, as we used to call it right. And you and you hope and pray.. I hope it’s not a Muslim.
Preet: And I hope it’s not someone from my part of the world. How did you feel about today? How do you react to the events of today?
Hasan: Yeah it’s tough. I mean the toughest part about all of it is the collective guilt, right? Something happens, and you have to hold your breath because…not because you had anything to do with this action. It’s this blame by association thing. That other people that I work with, or that I communicate with in the community or in the city don’t have to deal with with say like a Stephen Paddock, or a Dylan Roof or a Jared Laughner right?
Preet: I mean are you kind saying to yourself. God I hope it’s a white person?
Hasan: Yeah sad as that is. But I mean because it’s still it’s still an awful thing. It’s just one of those things where it’s like… oh man, I hope it’s not… because I don’t want to sort of live with this blame, but also sort of, a lot of the repercussions of it are just hate crimes. You know to other people that may or may not be Muslim. They have melanin. That’s it, that’s awful too. Beyond just like the selfish feeling of like, I don’t want it to affect my friends and family. I just think, the biggest thing I try to figure out is like, how do I beat this really really ugly notion? At least the rules of the game in America or the idea of like collective guilt. Like if you’re from a minority group you get lumped into that one bad thing that your community is sort of known for. And how do you beat that? I sometimes feel I feel helpless, I can’t win that game. I feel like I could be like saving a kitten from like a burning tree, and I could be bringing the kitten down and someone would be like, “You hear about what happened at Port Authority?” Like, “fuck.” I feel like I’m trying to beat this game. But it doesn’t. You know it’s what it feels like.
Preet: So how do you think, either through your work or otherwise, you educate people about difference and diversity, so that people are not jumping to that conclusion, every time something bad happens?
Hasan: You know, I consider myself to be an angry optimist. So I’m not happy with the way things are. Mandarin Mussolini is running the country.
But I’m optimistic about the incredible potential that America has.
Preet: What are you angry about. Let’s take both of those separately. What are you most angry about?
Hasan: You know I’m just I’m angry at the state of a lot of things. Like, the election showed.. to me it reflected like, “oh, there is a large enough contingency in this country that believes in some of these sexist, racist, homophobic, xenophobic things”. And to me, all the other things he was promising, they were willing to take that deal to get coal jobs back? You know what I mean. That to me, fundamentally, was really really painful and hard to deal with. My hope is this. I remember being, this is around ‘08 when Obama’s running for office, right? And remember when he was on the campaign trail, someone yelled out during… I think to one of his opponents, was like “he’s a Muslim!” And then John McCain was like I don’t know, he’s a good person. And my dream is, I’m fighting for a day that someone says, “Yeah, so what” And that to me. We’re not there yet.
Preet: Do you think that I should have done more to investigate the spelling bee?
Hasan: Oh! OK.
Preet: Because you talk about it on your show also, and I was watching I’m thinking. So do people know, that only Indians are permitted to win. The Scripps Spelling Bee. I once tweeted, like “May the best Indian win.”
Preet: Like one, two, three..
Hasan: Dominance. Six, six in a row. We’re like the Bulls..of spelling
Preet: So I don’t like that stereotypes.
Preet: Because it’s ridiculous. So my kids..
Hasan: That’s we’re smart?
Preet: I just don’t like, I don’t like to be so associated with a particular thing, like memorization of how to spell like, knaidel.
Hasan: But there was a remix to it. Like, this year.
Preet: A remix to it?
Hasan: Yeah. Like, what I mean by… God.
Preet: I’m very old. You’ve got to explain…My dad is here.
Hasan: So think about it like a strain of marijuana, Preet. There’s new elements to it. Like. Ten years ago I’d be like, oh man, model minority myth. To me, what was cool this year is that the kids who was there.. two kids who own. And one of the kids not only spelled his stuff right but then like, also dabbed, and taunted his opponents. And so there was like, “Yeah, I’m smart as fuck and I’m an alpha. Deal with it, Chad.” And. That’s New Brown America. That’s the new wave. And to me, just like “yo deal with it we’re here.” You can’t —
Preet: I actually sometimes tell my three children to occasionally misspell stuff.
Hasan: Oh come on. No no no no no.
Preet: Just so they’re not pigeonholed.
Hasan: Nah man, cerebral is sexy man. Just like yeah, yeah.
Preet: You did the White House Correspondents Dinner. It was great. How did you how do you feel about that, with the president… Would you prefer the president to be there?
Hasan: Yeah, of course.
Preet: Would you change your comedy if he had been there?
Hasan: Well yeah I mean everything would have been like, he’s not here, and then it would have been like, he is here, and I would have done the same jokes. Like, people were like would you have been scared. I’m like nah, he wouldn’t have gotten it. It would have been too fast for him. Like. You know. You saw when Seth roasted him in 2011, he was just sitting there, like… Like it was just like what do you do cement. Orange cement
Preet: But do you believe the view. That some people have, this story that some people have spun, that in part it was the humiliation he felt at an earlier White House Correspondents Dinner that caused him to decide to run. In which case we should shut that thing down.
Hasan: No, like. Like to me that’s like, really? Like OK sure. Out of, out of a correspondents dinner set of 30 minutes, three minutes of jokes are pointed at you, and then it’s pointed at CNN and MSNBC and the president. Everybody else takes it. Like you’re just a baby, you can’t take a joke?
Hasan: That’s my problem. That’s like my fundamental problem. Everybody else…The cool tradition of the dinner, and this is why I was fundamentally bothered by it so much, is that every president has attended that event minus Ronald Reagan, and he didn’t attend one year because he was recovering from a gunshot wound. And even then he phoned in, he came in via video to be like ‘Hey I respect the free press’ and all of that stuff. And, it’s one of the great American institutions where a comedian, irrespective of their background, can stand on the stage and make fun of arguably the most powerful people in the world, and show that no one is beyond the reach of the First Amendment. That is such a cool American thing. That a lot of other democracies on paper don’t allow. An so that to me really really bothers me. He’s he’s a person who abuses that right. Every day you know, at 3:00 in the morning. Then yeah, like be a good sport and show up and be part of it. And every comedian who has been a part of that tradition, has been cutting but not cruel. And so it’s like hey come play ball, this is like an amazing tradition that we can show the rest of the world. But he obviously doesn’t care about those things.
Preet: So, you’re angry. You say you’re an angry optimist. And I’ve heard.. everyone has a boss. Trevor Noah, is he your boss?
Preet: I heard Trevor Noah talk at an event about this issue. There’s so much stuff that you have to process with Donald Trump, and we talked about backstage, that you can’t be equally outraged at all of it. You’ve got to figure out the things that really matter, and what you’re going to oppose or not oppose. And different things are funny, or not funny. But how do you manage the anger and how do you decide what things motivate you to do more or not? For example I once sent out a tweet after Donald Trump said something like, was found to be saying something like “the White House is a dump.” And a lot of people are outraged by that. And I wrote, you know, on the list of things to be outraged and upset about, it’s not in the top 50. And people tweeted back to me, ‘I’m able to multitask in my outrage.’ It’s all part of the same thing, and I get that. But if you live in America now, and all sorts of assaults, I think are happening on the First Amendment…
Hasan: I don’t think those people saying that are married, because you got to pick and choose your battles when you are married. Too real? Ok. Come on, we’re grown. You’ve got to pick your hills to die on..
Preet: So what hills do you pick? If you tell people, if you care about the country, and you care about what’s happening, and you’re upset about what’s happening, and you’re an angry optimist like you are. What do you focus on and what do you let slide?
Hasan: I’ll give you a prime example, like the New York Times, they had mis-Tweeted this image when he went to go visit the New England Patriots, and they posted this photo, like none of the players attended. And it basically presented itself to show that a lot of the staff had boycotted, when in reality they were… some of those staff members were sitting in the audience. And it gave him ammunition. And to me I’m like, why take that L? Like, it’s Agent Orange. There’s so much to make fun of him for legitimately, why misrepresent that? Now that doesn’t exclude the fact that, like, hey, the other side of the aisle lies all the time and there’s no recourse for it. I’m just saying we have to sometimes pick and choose our outrage beyond covfefe.
Preet: That was pretty funny though.
Hasan: Yeah, but like, beyond the tweet chasing. A big thing that I try to figure out is like, see beyond just the tweet chasing, like yeah I’m seeing what’s happening. But I try to talk to people that are a lot smarter than me, like why is this happening, and what is the context and what are the things that I should be thinking about as an informed citizen.
Preet: But how do you think about the issues that you will speak out about outside of comedy? So you wrote a letter, an open letter with Reza Aslan.
Preet: About gay marriage. How did you pick? How did you decide to do that. How do you decide what to speak or not about what’s important to you?
Hasan: So that was something I could speak from, from personal experience. Like for me, I was like, I publicly endorse this, I’m so proud of this amazing, amazing SCOTUS decision. Because to me marriage equality is a fundamental civil liberties issue and civil liberties are an all or nothing game. So a rising tide lifts all boats. So the same thing, the same freedoms and rights that I am privy to, that I’m allowed to have, that allow me to go to Jumu’ah prayer on Friday with safety are the same safeties that the LGBTQ community should have when they get married. Like, their rights should be honored just as well. It’s irrelevant whether you or did they think that it should or should not happen. Right? And so to me it’s an all or nothing game. Either you buy in for fairness and equality for everybody, or it’s a sham. So my letter that I read with Reza was like, hey this is what I just want to say to my community, and I want to say this is a public figure in my community, that like, I got your back and I endorse you on this issue, and I support you. That was it.
Preet: Can I ask. And I ask this delicately. What is your view of what Islam says about that issue?
Hasan: Yeah, to me like I treat religion like biryani. I push the good stuff towards me. And I push the weird shit to the side. It’s an issues by issues thing. You know what I mean.
Preet: Like what did you get? Did you get you get like blowback from family or others?
Hasan: Yeah sure.
Preet: What did you say to them?
Hasan: Update software. That’s all I’m saying. On that issue. Go to iTunes update the software. That’s all. All of it. You know, my family is mixed. Like you know, my wife’s family, she comes from a Hindu family. Like, so like to me all of this stuff. These are allegories on how to live a righteous, good life. So to me, like, that’s sometimes the issue that I have with, say, extreme right-wing Christians, what they have in regard to Syrian refugees. Like, “oh keep them out of the country,” and I’m like “that’s not very Christ-like.” So, like, to me anytime I see like an injustice within my group or any other group like I’m like hey that’s not what the whole point of going to a Sunday school and going to mass is about. So, I try to take the good stuff and I leave the bad stuff to the side.
Preet: How patriotic are you? What is patriotism to you? A lot of people are trying to tell us how we’re supposed to love America. And I don’t like that. As an immigrant what do you think is special about America?
Hasan: I mean we’re grappling with what it means to be patriotic. I will say in terms of branding, the GOP has patriotism on lock. Like patriotism is the Dallas Cowboys. It’s Jesus, standing for the national anthem. It’s guns, they have it like Coca-Cola, Nike, they have the branding of it down. And then like the left, we’re just like all over the place, we’re like watching a college improv group. We’re like, ‘What the fuck is happening in this scene? What the fuck is going on. I don’t know what is happening.’
Preet: So what are we supposed to be?
Hasan: I don’t know, but it’s like, throw out suggestions, just like everyday, like Bernie, antifa, like, Barack, Cory Booker. Preet. What is happening in this scene. Someone sweep the scene. We got to like, get order.
Preet: But I’m giving you which I’m giving you a chance to write the playbook. You wore a tie!
Preet: Last question. Then we’re going to wrap up.
Preet: How do you define the American dream? Have you lived it?
Hasan: Yeah I think there have been moments. I think the American dream is just being unapologetically yourself and succeeding at that.