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Learning from ‘Jewish Yoda’

Hasan Minhaj talks one-man show, Indian upbringing and ‘The Daily Show’


TUESDAY, OCT. 4 — When Hasan Minhaj told his conservative Indian parents that he wanted to be a comedian, they were not amused.

“They were flabbergasted,” he recalled. “They asked, ‘Why? You’re so smart. You have so much more to offer the world than telling jokes to strangers in bars at two in the morning.’”

Minhaj, 31, is best known for his work as a correspondent on “The Daily Show,” a job he landed in 2014. Seeing their son on television changed how his parents saw his career.

“Meeting Jon Stewart, I think, changed their perspective a little bit,” he said. “That was good for them, for Jon to tell them that they did a decent job raising me.”

Minhaj brings his one-man show “Homecoming King,” to the Wharton Center Friday. The autobiographical show is built around the tension between his Indian upbringing and American culture.

“I talk about how my family got here and how we became a family and my first time falling in love,” he said. “I was in high school and fell in love with this girl. I grew up in this strict, first generation immigrant household, and the girl I fell in love with was from a conservative household in the Midwest.”

The 90-minute show uses Minhaj’s personal experiences to dig into important cultural topics.

“Unlike what I do on ‘The Daily Show,’ which is grounded in daily, topical material, this is grounded in real stories from my life,” he said. “We use that as a way to talk about the American dream and interracial love and forgiveness — all these really heavy topics that are in the zeitgeist right now.”

Minhaj, who was hired for “The Daily Show” by longtime host Jon Stewart, said the workplace dynamic is much different under new host Trevor Noah, who took over in September.

“Jon was like Jewish Yoda, and we were the padawan training to become Jedi,” Minhaj said. “With Trevor, he’s my comedy contemporary. We’re like brothers. We have this open dialogue about the show. It’s the difference between working with comedy dad versus comedy brother.”

While Minhaj is a standup comedian, “Homecoming King” exists in a space between comedy and drama.

“If you’re in a position where you’re trying to decide between seeing theater and seeing a comedy show, this show gives you the opportunity to do both,” he said. “I think that’s a really unique thing that’s not being done in the American comedy space. It’s very popular in Europe, to do one-man shows that are comedic and have a larger narrative arc.”

The U.S. presidential race has put issues of race, immigration and patriotism into the national spotlight. Minhaj hopes his show can give audiences a fresh perspective on these issues.

“It’s not esoteric talking points. If these news is bogging you down, this is a great way to talk about it through personal stories,” he said. “This is a really awesome deep dive into the biggest things plaguing our country today.”

“Homecoming King”

With Hasan Minhaj

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7

$33/$15 students

Wharton Center

750 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing

(517) 432-2000, whartoncenter.com


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