By the time Hasan Minhaj arrives at the Mondavi Center with his acclaimed one-man show “Homecoming King” on Jan. 27, he will have performed in more than 30 cities across the country, usually in sold-out theaters.
But the Mondavi appearance will be momentous for the comedian, who is also a regular on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” Minhaj ’07 will be returning to his hometown, performing at his alma mater, and his act will be taped for a live comedy special, details of which are yet to be announced.
In “Homecoming King,” he talks about growing up a child of Muslim Indian immigrants and weaves together themes of race, heartbreak, forgiveness and love. Minhaj combines storytelling with comedy, resulting in a show that is both funny and, at times, serious. It debuted off-Broadway in October 2015.
“Nobody shows the real sad ugly nooks and crannies of life and that’s why I still think that being as personal and honest onstage is the most valuable commodity in art,” Minhaj, 31, said. “When someone is really authentic, I think it’s something the audience can feel. No matter how flawed that person is, you can still respect that honesty.”
The tour caps off a big year for Minhaj, who also got married, performed for the president at the 75th anniversary of the USO and headlined the Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner. The video of the latter speech went viral in June when thousands of people saw Minhaj address members of Congress about gun control in the wake of the Orlando nightclub shooting. It was his attempt to address the current state of affairs of this country, he said.
“I’m not there to try to skewer people,” Minhaj said. “I’m just trying to come at it with some human empathy. I consider myself to be an angry optimist.”
2017 promises no slowing down. Minhaj is cast in “Rock That Body,” a movie with Scarlet Johansson; plus, he’ll get to work on another one-man show and a book.
Why did you want to hit the road with “Homecoming King”?
When we did it off-Broadway, I would go to “The Daily Show” during the day and then take the train down to the Cherry Lane Theatre at night. I felt like a real New York theater artist. Even though I don’t smoke, I wanted to smoke a cigarette through the streets of the West Village, like, “I am a theater performer.” But I also felt like the energy of the show was really special. It was one of those things I wanted to share with the rest of the country. I didn’t want it to just end there.
What has been the response to these stories from audiences?
The thing that’s amazed me most is how it’s resonated with people who don’t even share my life story or background. I’ve had people tell me stories about growing up and not being able to talk about their sexuality, and there was a moment where they put themselves on the line to someone they loved and they weren’t accepted for who they were. It’s great that it transcends race, class, gender — all these lines. Everybody has felt like an outsider at some point. It’s ironic that’s what unites us all.
“Everybody has felt like an outsider at some point. It’s ironic that’s what unites us all.”
Did you feel it was also important to address your advantages?
I acknowledge my privilege within the show: “Oh, boo hoo, you poor little brown boy. You couldn’t go to a dance with a white girl? Your life must be so hard.” I realize that at least my spine isn’t getting shattered in the back of a police wagon. I lucked out. If this is the tax I had to pay for the American Dream, wow, what an easy way to get out. But then I want to balance that with talk about systemic problems or oppression or racism.
Did your parents highlight your opportunities, having immigrated themselves?
Yeah, there are things that I didn’t quite understand. I would butt heads with them when I was a kid. A lot of those themes are talked about in the show. I’m like, “Why aren’t you letting me go to a matinee movie on the weekend? Let me go to Holiday Cinema, dad!” He was like, “No fun, no friends, no girlfriends. You can have fun in med school. I didn’t come this far for you to go see ‘Lethal Weapon 4’ in theaters. You have bigger fish to fry.” It’s a level of pressure but also privilege to know that you lucked out.
Photo: Karin Higgins / UC Davis
How do you think growing up in Davis influenced your sense of humor or satire?
To me, when you grow up as a minority in a majority culture, I always felt like an outsider. And so what’s really great about comedy is that it’s one of the few art forms where you really are an outsider. You are someone observing life from the sidelines and commenting on what’s happening. It’s amazing because I didn’t know when I was experiencing that or feeling that way as a kid that it would be a tremendous tool that would help me become really insightful when I was writing comedy later.
You discovered comedy at UC Davis. How did you make the leap from college student to doing stand-up at night?
It was something I really wanted to do. To me, it felt like I was a superhero. I would put on my costume and go out into the city. By day I’m a political science student, and by night I’m a comedian performing, getting in my Nissan Stanza and hoping my car won’t break down on the way to San Francisco and doing open mics.