Hasan Minhaj chatted with UMD students in toned-down virtual Homecoming Comedy Show

Hasan Minhaj in 2016. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

On Tuesday night, Student Entertainment Events hosted its virtual Homecoming Comedy Show featuring Hasan Minhaj. Almost 700 people attended the livestreamed event, which was available on the Stamp Student Union’s website. The hour-long conversation spanned wide-ranging topics, such as journaling, sneakers, having a baby during a pandemic, doing stand-up in New Orleans and Desi representation. 

Minhaj is known for his recent Netflix show Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj, which combined comedy with more in-depth analysis of issues such as the cost of higher education, the fast-fashion industry and police brutality. Minhaj also worked as a correspondent on The Daily Show and wrote a 2017 Netflix special titled Homecoming King, which is a kind of coming-of-age story told through stand-up. 

Minhaj was relaxed, answering questions with ease and also shooting a few of his own back at Sammy Garcia, SEE’s comedy director who moderated the livestream. This kind of reciprocal attitude was reflective of Minhaj’s work on Patriot Act, which featured a question and answer segment called “Deep Cuts.” During these more casual moments on the show, Hasan answered questions from the audience, but he had a characteristic habit of directing the queries back at the asker, creating an environment that felt almost collaborative. 

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This show, advertised as a “comedic conversation,” was no different. At one point during the interview, Minhaj asked Garcia what the “vibe” on campus is. Garcia’s backdrop spoke for itself — he was livestreaming from a spare room in his house, a bed sheet draped behind him. Minhaj’s audio cut out briefly a few times during the broadcast, adding to the makeshift feeling of the interview. But the tone was relaxed and friendly throughout.

Garcia, a senior supply chain management major, has been doing stand-up since he was 12 years old, but said he only got serious about it in his freshman year of college. Interviewing Minhaj was “kind of epic,” Garcia said, despite some pre-show butterflies.

“I was really nervous,” Garcia said. 

Garcia is part of the improv group Erasable Inc.; the group did regular shows on Fridays in front of McKeldin Library before the pandemic. They’re still doing shows outside, but now they practice social distancing. 

The virtual show with Minhaj was further proof that comedy lives on despite the pandemic. 

“Ultimately, the interview was a great success,” Garcia said. 

At times, watching the live video felt a bit like intruding on a FaceTime; though Garcia’s lively energy could have certainly filled a stage, the graininess of the video and the casual tone of the participants felt intimate and even slightly private. It was a sharp contrast from Minhaj’s October 2017 show at this university, which took place in a packed Ritchie Coliseum. During that performance, Minhaj spoke in front of a screen, which projected similar graphics to those used on Patriot Act. It was a clean and practiced performance. Minhaj has a very specific stage presence that falls somewhere between a comedy set and a TED Talk. 

But none of that stage swagger was on display during Tuesday’s comedy show — it was, as advertised, more like a casual conversation between friends. About 20 minutes into Garcia’s one-on-one interview, two more students joined the livestream to ask Minhaj their own questions. 

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One of these students was Dhilan Shah, a sophomore computer engineering major. Shah asked Minhaj about the difficulty of telling South Asian narratives without falling into the trap of perpetuating stereotypes. 

“I try to do my best to be authentic to our experience and say things that I believe will resonate for the culture. And then, at the same time, I also try to see what expectations I can subvert or flip on its head so that we’re the protagonist and we’re the hero of our own story,” said Minhaj. “Hopefully I made y’all proud, and there’s gonna be a whole other generation of people that continue to do amazing, dope things that I couldn’t even conceive or imagine.” 

With instructions from Garcia, the group played a virtual round of speed pictionary, competing to draw words such as “vegetarian” and “capitalism.” After Minhaj won the game, Garcia asked the comedian how he would celebrate his victory. By eating a bowl of cereal with some almond milk, Minhaj responded. 

The show’s low-key vibe allowed for banter between Minhaj, Garcia and the other students. During a game of “Overrated/Underrated,” Minhaj and Garcia agreed that Tina Fey was underrated. 

“Tina Fey is a G,” Minhaj said. 

Minhaj and Garcia talked about the musical adaptation of Mean Girls — and lamented over its neglect of an iconic character in Kevin G. 

“This is [an] exclusive live right now,” Minhaj jokingly advertised. “My next project: I’m bringin’ back mothafuckin’ Kevin Gnapoor.”

Despite this month’s calamitous news cycle, the interview rarely hit on current events. But Minhaj did point out the role that comedy plays in mending division — and getting people to calm down a little. 

“Comedy is a release of tension,” Minhaj said. “We need it during painful, troubling times.”

The livestream ended at about 9 p.m., after Minhaj answered questions submitted from social media.

“Who was your favorite person to interview? Who has been your favorite person to be interviewed by?” asked the last question. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Minhaj responded to the first question. And to the second: “Sammy at UMD.”

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