Jazz Tangcay talks to Hasan Minhaj On Graduating from The Daily Show With Jon Stewart To Patriot Act
When Hasan Minhaj left The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he felt there was a gap missing in the talk-show world. He felt there were more global stories that needed to have a spotlight moment, and like Minhaj, they get to shine in his new show, Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj.
I caught up with Minhaj to talk about graduating from Jon Stewart to going out there and upsetting world leaders.
As Emmy voting draws to a close, consider Minhaj’s Patriot Act and why this is a show with a difference.
Who were your influences growing up?
Chris Rock got me into standup comedy. When I saw his special Never Scared, I thought, I wanted to do it. I was a speech and debate kid, so when I saw Chris Rock while I was in college, I thought I could totally do it.
What was your first encounter with standup and what did that feel like?
I did perfectly average, and for standup comedians, that’s just good enough to keep you going. I give myself a solid six and that was not great. In my mind, I thought it was a ten and here we are almost ten years later and we’re still doing it.
I was 18 when I did that and now I’m 33-years-old. I consider myself to be a pretty young person.
You are. You totally are. How did The Daily Show prepare you for Patriot Act?
The Daily Show really is your political undergraduate political satire degree. I spent four years there, getting my undergrad degree from Jon Stewart. You learn every day, first-hand, day in, day out about how to establish a really great take. There are a lot of opinions. The cream that rises to the top is the best take. If you have really great comedic takes, learning how to do that at scale is what I learned about.
What it got me to do and think about once I left The Daily Show, I really thought about what I wanted to do next and what I really wanted to say. One of the limitations of the show due to the ad breaks and the daily nature of it, you don’t have a lot of time to dig deep. The show is essentially a recap show with a comedic button at the end. What I really wanted to do was to take one issue and really do a deep dive on that topic.
That has become its own genre in enough itself as infotainment. What I wanted to do that I felt was missing from the marketplace was that there’s so much global news that is happening every day that is outside of a Trump tweet. That stuff exists on the front page of the New York Times every day, but it’s too esoteric and confusing for people to understand. I wanted to take the time to break down censorship in China, the revolutions that are happening in Sudan, the Indian elections and the US relations with Saudi Arabia. These are such huge topics that have mega-catastrophic implications for global politics that just can’t be condensed down to five minutes.
Being on a global platform like Netflix and having the amazing news team that works on the show, those two things were a match made in heaven. Netflix is an international platform. I have an international perspective. I wanted to work with amazing researchers and writers and journalists who want to tell global stories.
Have you upset anyone and by anyone I mean world leaders? [laughs]
Besides Saudi Arabia? Yes. For whatever reason, strong men, autocrats and dictators don’t seem to like me. When we did the story on Saudi Arabia, we got pulled from there. When we did the Philippines and covered the mid-terms, they were not fans of it. Look, I think it’s important. I think these conversations are important. I have an incredible privilege of being in America. Safety is an assumed thing. When you are a public figure here, we are allowed to talk openly about politicians. Despite the problems that we might be having, despite the arguments happening online and in the media, as artists in this country, we still have an incredible amount of freedom.
If I have that creative freedom and if we have this platform where we can be in 190 countries, I want to use it. I want to use it to push the genre of political comedy and political satire as far as we can take it.
I love your honesty and frankness.
It’s such a tough balance to strike. The research team will tell me, there are times where I’m just speaking from the heart. The toughest part of the show for me is balancing head and heart. This is what is factually accurate; you’ve crossed your T’s and dotted your I’s. The stats are all correct. All the pull quotes and tear quotes are correct. Everything is cross-checked and vetted and there are multiple redundancies to make sure that everything we put out is correct. Knock on wood; we have yet to make any corrections. However, balancing that with sometimes, I just want to say something with how I feel, is very different from the facts.
We’ve done an amazing job with working with the writers and everyone on the show, but it is a balancing act. We really work hard when we are writing the scripts and putting it up in rehearsals and then doing multiple tech rehearsals on every episode to make sure that this feels balanced.
Where are you the most creative? Is it when reading the papers or you’re out?
To me, the times I feel we’re flying is that there’s always this moment when we’re locked into the script and the comedy book report is done. You see it. We did this huge piece this week on internet inequality and how broadband companies have essentially formed an internet cartel to prevent people in America from having equal access to the internet and broadband. There was this moment where I thought it was great and awesome, and then I thought, how can we elevate this? How can we take this off the page and outside the studio? I thought what if we got the DVD to the Netflix subscribers.
We also did that episode on Supreme. It was one of those things where they’re so unapologetic with their collaboration. They’re collaborating with the Carlyle Group, which is an incredibly messed up multi-national corporation. We made these Carlyle Supremium hoodies and t-shirts. Ironically, they sold out, and people were reselling them at 1000% margins. It’s so funny when you take stuff off the page. It’s so funny when you take it into the real world; you push something and it pushes back. Those things are really interesting to me.