As the American-born child of parents who emigrated from India, comic Hasan Minhaj often feels a little out of place. "I exist in this hyphen," he says. "I'm an Indian-American-Muslim kid, but am I more Indian or am I more American? What part of my identity am I?"
Those are the kinds of questions Minhaj deliberately sidestepped when was getting his start in comedy. "It was almost like I was on the playground all over again," he says of his early career. "I just was afraid if I get real ... people aren't going to like it; they're going to think I'm a freak."
After years doing stand-up, Minhaj became a correspondent with The Daily Show in 2014. The following year, he starred in Homecoming King, a one-man stand-up show in which he began to open up on stage about his experiences as a "third culture kid" who doesn't fully share in either the culture of his parents or that of his hometown of Davis, Calif.
"It wasn't until I started exploring the personal stuff, the one-man-show stuff, that I kind of got a chance to be more open to the audience and to my family," he says.
Minhaj's new stand-up special, which is also called Homecoming King, is available on Netflix starting Tuesday.
On his father's strict rules growing up
One of the biggest things immigrant kids oftentimes feel is ... this big disparity between our parents and us. And our parents are staunch pragmatists and I consider myself to be an optimist. ...
His rules with me growing up were very simple: no fun, no friends, no girlfriends. You can have fun in med school, which is, like, a huge lie. Terry, that's just a blatant lie. All my Indian friends and Asian-American friends that are in medicine or pharmacy, they will tell you: It doesn't get poppin' in dental school. It doesn't all of a sudden get fun where you go to a club and see a bunch of dudes going crazy, like, "What's going on fellas?" "What's going on? Residency! I'm having the time of my life." It doesn't work like that!
Again, I felt like for my dad ... I have to deliver the dream. I am aware of that. I go back to Aligarh and I go back to Delhi often, where my cousins live now, and I'm very aware of the opportunity that I have when I go meet them. That's where I understand and I empathize with what my dad feels.
On his mother taking his newborn younger sister to live in India while she finished her residency there
My younger sister, Ayesha, was born in the States and then, at 2 months after her birth, she went to go live with my grandparents and be raised [in India]. So I didn't officially, officially get a chance to really meet her until I was 8 [and Ayesha was 5].
The tough thing was, again, a lot of immigrant households, when you come to the States, you don't have the bandwidth and set up to accommodate a lot of things. My dad is working full time; I'm at school and then I'm going to ... an after school daycare program; and now we have a newborn, my little sister. My mom is doing residency and rotations, so she's at a hospital all day. There just wasn't that infrastructure to care for this newborn baby, and financially that wasn't there. My grandparents were in India and it was set up in such a way that she could be raised and she was around cousins and it was an amazing way for her to grow up.
Our narratives are very different. She grew up in India. Like, literally, it took a village. She was around people that loved her and were there for her, and I was this brown kid who was alone in America with his dad. So when she came back, I was just like, I hate this person. Who are you? I just wanted a mom, and now I got you.
On how doing speech and debate in high school led him to comedy
In high school I didn't know what comedy was, but I was involved in speech and debate and public speaking. ... Believe it or not, they are very similar. ... My favorite comedians are just presenting an argument and they're doing it in a funny way. And whenever I would do speech and debate, ... if you can make the judges laugh or if you could ridicule your opponent's position and make the judges laugh, I always would do better on the scorecard. ... That's when I really wanted to get into political comedy and talk about a lot of these topics that sometimes would be too taboo to talk about in other settings.
On how getting a job at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart marked a turning point in how his parents viewed his career
They finally could believe that I would be OK because ... Jon, to my dad, was somebody that you could trust and he was somebody that had figured things out. ... He was like, "If Jon Stewart says you're alright, then I think you'll be OK." Just having that co-sign — more than having steady income and getting to have your dream job — having that co-sign with your parents was just a huge deal.
On election night and trying to get his mom home from a visit to India once it became clear Trump was going to win
We were doing a live show that night; it was our election night special. We had a script written that followed what we thought was going to happen, that Hillary Clinton would be president. [But] as ... the results were coming in, we're literally tearing apart our script. We're rewriting a one-hour live show in real time, and I'm on WhatsApp audio with my mom. My mom [is] being like, "We're watching the news. I'm with your grandma. What's going on?"
So I'm trying to write jokes about Trump winning the election while I'm on Kayak.com looking up tickets for her to come back. ... It was a horrible 48 hours. ... And not knowing that everything will be OK was just really awful. ... We managed to get her home. ... I didn't want to risk anything.
On hosting the 2017 White House Correspondents' Dinner and being asked not to roast President Trump
The irony to me was the theme of the night was about honoring the First Amendment, and you want me to censor myself? That to me — I couldn't do it. ... Especially given the fact that the person that I'm roasting, the president, is someone who has so exploited that incredible privilege of free speech. The man who tweets whatever enters his head doesn't even want to honor the amendment that allows him to do it. That to me just blows my mind. So I wanted to make the conscious choice of, Hey, I will roast his merit and I will roast the decisions he's made. I will try to be as tasteful as possible, but I have to talk about this.
Radio producers Ann Marie Baldonado and Mooj Zadie and Web producers Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Nicole Cohen contributed to this story.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest Hasan Minhaj is a correspondent on "The Daily Show." He was hired by Jon Stewart just a few months before Stewart left the show. The Trump administration has provided plenty of material for satire, but it's also created serious concerns for the Minhaj family. His parents are Muslim immigrants from India. On his post-election night piece on "The Daily Show," he ended by talking about how his mother, an American citizen, was visiting family in India, and they were worried that a Muslim ban would be instituted that would make it difficult for her to get back home to America.
Just a few weeks ago, Minhaj was the emcee at the White House Correspondents' Dinner and did stand-up roasting the president and the press. Usually the president does stand-up, too, but this year, President Trump declined to attend the dinner. Here's Minhaj at the dinner.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
HASAN MINHAJ: I would say it is an honor to be here, but that would be an alternative fact - it is not. No one wanted to do this, so of course it lands in the hands of an immigrant. That's how it always goes down. No one wanted this gig, no one.
GROSS: Now Hasan Minhaj has a Netflix comedy special called "Homecoming King" that will be available starting next Tuesday. It's about growing up in Davis, Calif., the son of immigrants. Let's start with a clip in which he's telling the story of the anonymous threatening phone call his father received at home right after 9/11. Just after the phone call, the windows on the family car were shattered. Hasan Minhaj went out into the street to see if he could find who did it.
(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "HOMECOMING KING")
MINHAJ: I looked back. In the middle of the street, my dad's in the middle of the road sweeping glass out of the road like he works at like a hate crime barbershop, just like...
MINHAJ: ...We got customers. We got to clean this up. Zen brown Mr. Miyagi just like not saying a word. I run up to him. I'm like, Dad, why aren't you saying something? I'm not asking you. Say something. He looks at me and he goes, Hasan, (foreign language spoken). These things happen, and these things will continue to happen. That's the price we pay for being here. And that's when I was like, oh, no, we really are from two different generations, like BMX bikes aside.
And my dad's from that generation like a lot of immigrants where he feels like if you come to this country, you pay this thing like the American dream tax, right? Like you're going to endure some racism, and if it doesn't cost you your life, well, hey, you lucked out. Pay it. There you go, Uncle Sam. But for me, like a lot of us, I was born here, so I actually have the audacity of equality.
GROSS: That's an excerpt of "Homecoming King." Hasan Minhaj, welcome to FRESH AIR. I love this new show.
MINHAJ: Thanks for having me, Terry.
GROSS: Can you talk a little bit more about the difference in your point of view about what it means to be an immigrant and a Muslim in America now and what the difference generationally between your father as an immigrant and you as somebody who was born here?
MINHAJ: Yeah. The biggest difference between - and I feel like a lot of third culture kids feel this. And I identify as a third culture kid, meaning that, you know, my family is from Aligarh, India. They immigrated to America. I was born here. I exist in this hyphen. I'm an Indian-American Muslim kid, but am I more Indian? Am I more American? What part of my identity am I?
And one of the biggest things immigrant kids oftentimes feel is it's this big disparity between our parents and us. Our parents are staunch pragmatists. And we actually - I consider myself to be an optimist, you know. So when my dad immigrated here - we talk about it in the show - there's this thing called, you know, the American dream tax.
You're going to come here. You're going to endure some struggles, some problems. But if you don't die, if it doesn't cost you your life, well, hey you lucked out. My dad is a child of partition when it happened in India. So if I explain the concept of micro aggressions to him, he's like I dealt with full-on aggression. You're lucky. Put your head down and go. Like...
GROSS: Partition is when Pakistan divided from India and there was a lot...
GROSS: ...On both sides of this new border, there's a lot of violence and a lot of death.
MINHAJ: Yes, and it was one of the largest mass exoduses of people from India to Pakistan. My dad's family stayed in Aligarh in India, which was a huge decision because you're dividing a country based on religious lines. So the things that he saw and witnessed as a kid, he doesn't want to hear about my identity crises at school, you know, and how I want to just, you know, fall in love and fit in. For him, things that he witnessed during that generation and era were very, very extreme and oftentimes violent.
But what's weird is, you know, for me as a kid growing up, going to school, taking honors gov in high school and learning about equality and civil liberties, you actually at a young age have this sense of optimism where you're like, oh, so I am equal. That means that I shouldn't be treated this way. And that's where there's this big sort of differentiation between us and our parents.
And, you know, that night, you know, when I tell that story of September 12, it was the first night of so many nights where I kind of was put in this position where - do I think like my dad? You know, do I sweep up the glass that's in the road? Do I sort of just forget this hate crime? Do I sweep up the glass, that way the neighbors don't see it, and just go back inside and actually be grateful that they broke the windows on the car, they didn't break the windows to the house and try to, you know, come in and do something and just, hey, just count my blessings? Or do I use this as a moment to be like no, this is wrong, and I should I should speak up and say something?
Because it's these moments where maybe my generation can move the needle forward a little bit and talk about this. And I even say it in the show, that pendulum swings back and forth for me all the time. I don't have a clear, you know, that this is the way you deal with this. There's sometimes where maybe my dad's right, and there's sometimes where I'm like no, I think he's wrong. I think being an angry optimist is the solution.
GROSS: So there are a lot of cultural differences between you and your father.
GROSS: And let's start with the fact that your father hadn't even met your mother when he decided to marry her. Can you describe the circumstances of their marriage?
MINHAJ: My dad was doing grad school, and he was in Aligarh. You know, he was of age to get married. And he had heard about this girl named Sima (ph), my mom. And I talk about it in the show. The hype around Sima, she was like the iPhone 8 of Aligarh. People were just like, oh, my God, have you heard of this girl named Sima? She's very slim and slender, and her family owns a camera.
And my dad was like, oh, my God, a camera, I can't believe this. You know, so he just - off of just this Yelp review of who she was and what her family was like, he just ran down to my grandfather's house and laid it all on the line. He's just like, what's up? I'm Najmi (ph). I'm a chemist. I'm going to America. Please let me marry Sima.
And in 10 minutes, he married a woman he had never laid eyes on. And it's a pretty incredible story when I think about it because that level of decisiveness is something that I don't have. I'm his son. I don't have that level of decisiveness, but because of that decision I'm here, and it's pretty wild.
GROSS: OK. So he marries your mother without meeting her.
GROSS: You on the other hand, you were born in 1985. So you grew up with like hip-hop.
MINHAJ: Yes. Yeah.
GROSS: You know, you grew up with television and movies but the kind of television or movies where sex is a constant presence.
MINHAJ: (Laughter) Right. Right. Right.
GROSS: And sex before marriage is a constant presence.
MINHAJ: Yeah. Yeah.
GROSS: And so, again, like, the difference between, like, your father's cultural values growing up in India and your own growing up here are so much at odds with each other...
GROSS: ...Was it hard for you to - and obviously, like, you wanted to fit in when you were in high school. Was it hard for you to find a place where you could survive at home and be your father's son but also be the person you wanted to be at school and with your friends?
MINHAJ: Yeah. His rules with me growing up were very simple - no fun, no friends, no girlfriends.
MINHAJ: You can you can have fun in med school, which is just like a huge lie. Terry, that's just a blatant lie. It never - you know, you go to a club, and you just see a bunch of dudes going crazy. Like, what's going on, fellows? Oh, what's going on residency? Like I'm having the time of my life. It doesn't work like that. But I felt like for my dad, I am his first round draft pick. You know, like I'm the LeBron James to his franchise. I have to deliver the dream. And, you know, I am aware of that.
I go back to Aligarh, and I go back to Delhi often where my cousins live now. And I'm very aware of the opportunity that I have when I go meet them. And that's where I understand and I empathize with what my dad feels. And when I was, you know, in high school and trying to meet and talk to girls, go to the movies on a weekend, you know, try to maybe go to like some sort of social event, fit in, maybe - you know, I never would invite school friends over my house.
I'd go over to, you know, like, my friends' houses. It was just about trying to fit in and find my place in the world where my dad really felt, look, if you take care of these necessary things, you'll find your place. But I meant that emotionally. I want to find my place emotionally. Where do I belong? You know? And that was a tough thing for him to understand.
GROSS: So was comedy like a secret weapon for you in school, like a way for you to be yourself and stand out? And what did your father think of comedy?
MINHAJ: In high school, I didn't know what comedy was, but I was involved in speech and debate and public speaking and impromptu speaking...
GROSS: Close, oh, so close (laughter).
MINHAJ: Yeah. But...
GROSS: Debate club, stand-up, yeah.
MINHAJ: But - no, actually believe it or not...
GROSS: They are close?
MINHAJ: They are very similar. When I got to college, that's when I was first exposed to stand-up comedy. Again, I had never - I didn't know what it was. My - you know, my parents didn't let us have cable television, so I thought stand-up comedy was the stuff that Seinfeld did before "Seinfeld" where he's just like, like, hey, you ever notice - like what's with the deal with laundry? And I was always like, oh, I hate that part of "Seinfeld." Like, get to the episode.
Then when I get to college, I get exposed to Pryor, "Bring The Pain," all this like really edgy subversive stuff, all this stuff that I could never say in my house or at school. They're being critical of the government. I mean, they're really being provocative. Carlin - these guys are really pushing the edge, and that's when I realized, oh, that's funny speech and debate. Like, my favorite comedians are just presenting an argument, and they're doing it in a funny way. And whenever I would do speech and debate forensics - or like we would have - there was a division called impromptu speaking. You're given a topic. If you could make the judges laugh or if you could ridicule your opponent's position and make the judges laugh, I always would do better on the scorecard.
So when I had the sort of, oh, my God like that's it. That - I've been doing that - like, I know how to do that. And that's when I really wanted to get into comedy and sort of like political comedy and talk about a lot of these topics that sometimes would be too taboo to talk about in other settings. And...
GROSS: I guess that was good practice for "The Daily Show."
MINHAJ: Yeah. Inadvertently, yeah. That's essentially put together a three and a half or four-minute chat. That's what, you know, forensics was.
GROSS: OK. Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Hasan Minhaj He's a correspondent on "The Daily Show." And now he has a new comedy special that's a monologue that's very personal and also very funny. And it goes up on Netflix May 23. So we'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is comic Hasan Minhaj. He's a correspondent on "The Daily Show." He did the White House Correspondents' Dinner which we'll talk about a little bit later. He was the comic there just a couple of weeks ago. And now he has a new comedy special. It's basically, you know, an autobiographical monologue that is very funny also that will go up on Netflix May 23. Let's talk about your mother.
GROSS: You know, we talked about how your father decided to marry your mother through kind of hearing about her through word of mouth and seeing a picture. So they got married. They moved to the States, but she went right back to India soon after because she was studying medicine and wanted to complete med school there.
GROSS: So basically for the first eight years of your life, you were brought up by your father with occasional visits from your mother.
MINHAJ: Yes, yes.
GROSS: So how much did you know about her for the first eight years of your life?
MINHAJ: You know, I definitely knew about her. And as I was growing up, you know, she was doing - she got an opportunity to do residency in rotations in New York and then in Stockton, so over the course of my life, she moved closer and closer to us.
But - so I would see her, but it was one of those things where you - growing up with an Indian father who's super strict - and then my mom who was just sort of the antithesis to him, that made it really bittersweet because I really wanted to be around my mom. And it's tough being just a kid growing up with an immigrant father and not having that buffer to be there as much. You know, it was really hard. It was hard. Yeah.
GROSS: So when your mother returned for good to your home and the family was reunited...
GROSS: ...The family suddenly got much larger because your mother brought with her a 5-year-old girl who you were told was your sister, the sister you'd never met because your mother and father conceived your sister in India during one of his visits...
MINHAJ: (Laughter) Right, right.
GROSS: ...To India to visit your mother. So you were kind of stunned when you found out that you had this sister that nobody ever told you about. Why didn't they tell you?
MINHAJ: I think it's one of those things where - OK, this is an important piece of information, but obviously, you know, it's finesse for the one-man-show format. My younger sister Ayesha was born in the States. And then at two months after her birth, she went to go live with my grandparents and be raised there. So I didn't officially officially, you know, get a chance to really meet her until I was 8. You know, and so that I think, you know, the tough thing was, again, a lot of immigrant households when you come to the States, you don't have the sort of bandwidth and setup to accommodate a lot of things.
You know, my dad is working full-time. I'm at school, and then I'm going to preschool and sort of an after-school day care program and now we have a newborn, my little sister. My mom is doing residency in rotations, so she's at a hospital all day. There just wasn't that infrastructure to care for this newborn baby, and also financially potentially, you know, that wasn't there. My grandparents were in India, and it was set up in such a way that that way she could be raised, and she was around cousins. And it was an amazing way for her to grow up.
Our narratives are very different. She grew up in India, like, literally in Tooka Village. She was around people that loved her and were there for her. And I was this brown kid who was alone in America with his dad. And so when she came back, I was just like I hate this person. Like, who are you? I just want a mom, now I got you.
GROSS: So I'm going to stop you here because...
GROSS: We have a clip from your show "Homecoming King" in which you talk about how you felt about your sister as this kind of like intruder in your life...
MINHAJ: Yeah, yeah.
GROSS: ...When she came to live with you. So let's hear that clip, and this is Hasan Minhaj from his new Netflix comedy special "Homecoming King."
(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "HOMECOMING KING")
MINHAJ: I hated that brown girl so much. Can I be honest with you guys?
MINHAJ: I totally understood the wall. I was like build that wall. I was like a little Republican.
MINHAJ: I get it. I remember leveling with my parents at the dinner table. I was like, look, mom, dad, let's just be real. Oh, my God. These brown people - oh, geez...
MINHAJ: ...Coming into our house, eating our fruit roll-ups.
MINHAJ: They don't speak the language.
MINHAJ: I say we tell them to go back to where they came from. That's just me. He's like, Hasan, you can't say that. We're family. We're all that we have. I'm like, no, that's on you and mom.
MINHAJ: While you guys decided to get your Angelina Jolie on and bring over this fob in a frock - that's on you. That's not on me.
GROSS: OK. That's Hasan Minhaj from his new one-man show "Homecoming King" which will be up on Netflix May 23. So you describe in your show that you took all the anger channeled at you, all the anger channeled at you because you're brown and Muslim...
GROSS: ...And you channeled it at your new sister. How did you realize that you were doing that?
MINHAJ: I didn't realize how messed up it was until there was this incident where, you know - I wanted to be treated special in a certain way. And then when my sister got there, my dad took a lot of that guilt and not being able to be there the first several years of her life, missing her first steps, her first words, all of those things, and he got her this gift that I always wanted, this blue BMX bike that I had wanted. It was in the Toys R Us kids catalog, and I had this cut out on my wall.
And then for her fifth birthday, he brings everybody in the living room, and he gives her this bike. And I stole that bike from her, and I - like, I took it around the block, even though she let me - she lent it to me. She's like, you can take it out for the first ride, and I took it. And I popped a wheelie, and I actually fell off the bike, and I messed up the bike. It, like, fell over, and all the blue paint got like chipped off the side of the bike. And I remember her running over and just crying, bawling.
And I remember looking down at her and being like, wow, like, this is really messed up. I resent this girl. I hate her. She's like my foil. But I've been looking for acceptance from everyone at school, and she's - just wanted to hang out with - that's all she wants. She just wants to be around me. She wants me to teach her about America and teach her English, and she just wants to be my best friend. What am I doing? And it was sort of this moment where I remember finally kind of realizing - it was the first time where I realized maybe family and looking out for one another is an important thing. Like, it's right here underneath my nose, and I should value it.
GROSS: Did your father change? Did he become something of a different person when your mother moved back?
MINHAJ: He became a much softer person when my mom and Ayesha came back. I, you know - and I can still see it in his eyes. You know, when he looks at my sister, there is this, like, deep affection, and this - it's just so much like love. I remember when Ayesha first came back, and she was wearing this, like, white frock, and she had like her hair - and like - and this, like, ponytail. She was done up like this little, like, brown, porcelain doll.
And I remember my dad, you know, he had, like, tears in his eyes. He was so happy to see her and have her be in the house and sleep - like me and her. We shared a bedroom like for us to be in one room together really made him happy. I think it was - it's a regret he still has to this day that he didn't get a chance to be a part of the early part of her life.
And when she got here, it definitely made him a lot softer to her and my mom. You know, they were in the house. But what's weird is it made him super soft with them. But he get - he doubled down with me. Like, he just - he wanted me to be the protector, and he wanted me to go from Simba to Mufasa really fast. And I just - I wasn't ready for that.
GROSS: My guest is Hasan Minhaj, a correspondent for "The Daily Show." He has a new comedy special called "Homecoming King" that will be available on Netflix starting next Tuesday. After a break, we'll talk more about his childhood. We'll talk about "The Daily Show" and about roasting the president and the press at the recent White House Correspondents' Dinner. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Hasan Minhaj, a correspondent for "The Daily Show" whose pieces and commentaries often deal with being Muslim in America. He has a new comedy special called "Homecoming King" that will be available on Netflix starting Tuesday. It's a comic autobiographical monologue about growing up in Davis, Calif., the son of immigrants from India. You talk about immigrants liking secrets and certainly your father...
GROSS: ...You put your father in that category. So when you decided to become a comic and talk about yourself, did you have to fight your own instincts - because I'm sure he instilled in you an instinct to be secretive, but you were defying that instinct.
MINHAJ: Yeah. When I first started doing stand-up, I kept it kind of generic. Oh, these are some tropes. This is what it's like, you know, growing up in my life. And I was afraid for the longest time, and I was afraid of this theme that, you know, we talk about a lot in immigrant households - (foreign language spoken) what will people think? I just was afraid if I get too real, if I get too honest on stage, people aren't going to like it. They're going to think I'm a freak.
The first several years of me doing comedy, it was me hiding comedy from my parents and then me also hiding who I really, really am to the audience. It was almost like I was on the playground all over again. And it wasn't until I started exploring the personal stuff, the one-man show stuff, that I kind of got a chance to be more open to the audience and to my family.
GROSS: How did you start doing that?
MINHAJ: It was inadvertent. I got asked to do a Moth story slam. It was at a comedy festival. The lineup was all comedians, and the theme was love and heartbreak. I'm driving to the gig, and I just look at my email, and I have to think of a 10-minute story for the slam. And I had to think of my first moment of love and heartbreak. And again, I couldn't lean back on my act. So I had to be honest, so I ended up telling a story about being in high school and my first love, and that became the seed of the idea of what is "Homecoming King."
GROSS: You tell a story in your show about how you were about to perform at The Comedy Store in New York when your sister calls you that your father is about to have a quintuple bypass after having...
GROSS: Did he have a heart attack before that?
MINHAJ: A heart attack. Yeah, he had a heart attack.
GROSS: So you...
MINHAJ: It was The Comedy Store in LA.
GROSS: Oh, in LA, OK. So you were closer to his home than I thought.
MINHAJ: I'm closer to home, yeah. I'm living in Los Angeles at the time. I get a call from my sister. Hasan bai (ph), come home. Dad had a heart attack. You need to come home now.
GROSS: Right, because your family was living in Davis, Calif.
GROSS: So you - first, you do your show at The Comedy Store. Then, you go to be with your father. So what was the calculus you did in your mind to decide whether you should cancel your show and just leave or do the show first and then go? That strikes me as a really hard choice that you made.
GROSS: One I'm not sure you were happy with, but...
MINHAJ: Yeah, I'm not. I'm still not happy with it. Sorry, it's just like - it was a very ugly thing. You know, I love my dad a lot, you know? And it's something I'm not very proud of, but I was very angry at that time. I was living in LA, and I'm pursuing comedy on my own terms. My parents, specifically my dad, wasn't very, you know, supportive of it. And I remember when I got the call to go home, my sister was really worried, and I was just thinking, yeah, I got to do this set.
And in my head, it was basically just like, you know, this is my time now. Nobody can tell me what to do. No one's going to control whether I can leave the house or not. He doesn't get it, but I'll come home after the set. And I'm very embarrassed that I made that choice. It was just...
GROSS: Don't you think in a way sometimes that the tighter a parent's grip is the more, like, you have to just, like, double down when you're breaking away and, like, demand, like, no, I'm drawing the line, you know? And you sometimes do, like...
MINHAJ: Yeah, but just in the face of a heart attack - I mean...
GROSS: No, I know, and you sometimes do things that you're not proud of as a result. But I do think that that is a phenomenon - do you know what I mean? - that when a parent holds on tight...
GROSS: ...It's so hard to kind of break away and become the person you want to be that you sometimes do some really...
MINHAJ: Yeah. And it was just...
GROSS: ...Like, stupid, even dangerous things.
MINHAJ: Yeah, it was just a kind of ugly thing, you know, because I knew better. But, yeah, in that moment, it's just - I was feeling that grip for so many years that you finally sort of feel free and, yeah, you just want to be your own person and make your own choices in spite of that. And I decided to do a set. And I've done thousands of sets, but that night, I decided to do that set because it was almost just like defiant in a weird - in a strange way to be like, no, I'm going to - I'm going to come home on my own terms and, you know, there's nothing you can do about it. And...
GROSS: But you talk about when you did come home and you saw your father and you said goodbye to him before the surgery, before the bypass. And you thought, if he dies, like, if something happens to him, I will never have really gotten to know him.
GROSS: And you talk about how you decided then that you'd better really get to know him as a person better. And it sounds like you did. What did you do to be able to do that? Because as somebody who you've described as keeping secrets and not being forthcoming with you, how did you change the terms of your relationship?
MINHAJ: I was forced to. I don't think it was as much of an act of bravery and courage as it was he had to sit and recover in the hospital. I'm a full-time, stand-up comedian. My sister and my mom actually have real jobs. So I'm just forced to sit and talk to him in this hospital room. And you run out of stories. There's only so much "Wheel Of Fortune" you can watch. And so (laughter) I started telling him stories about my life, and he started telling me stories about his life because we just were together all day for weeks.
So I was able to start to piecemeal things about his life, and he started to hear stories from my life. And that's how we were able to sort of bridge that divide. And I realized a lot of the things that he was keeping secret he just didn't want me to worry about, you know? He just was like...
GROSS: Like what?
MINHAJ: I mean, things like, why didn't you ever tell me how you met mom? Or why didn't you guys tell me more about the Ayesha stuff? Why - logistically, why didn't you just talk to me about it? And, you know, my dad was actually really honest. He was like, I could tell when I would look at you, you were having a tough time at school. You were having a tough time fitting in.
If we dangled that over your head - oh, you know, you actually have a sibling, you actually have a sidekick who looks like you, who has the same skin color as you, who you could share a lot of these experiences with, oh, but she's in India - it would just - it would break your heart to have that reminder be dangled over your head. You know, they're just like, I kept that information from you so that maybe you'd be safe or things would be easier.
The thing that I kind of told him - and, you know, he's said the same thing about me - why would you keep all these things from me? I kept - I had the same reasoning with him and Mom. I didn't tell them about sneaking out of the house or falling in love or kissing a girl or trying to go to a prom, all of those things, because I didn't want them to worry. But everybody's worrying about what other people will think. The truth is still the truth, and it's the most powerful thing you can share with a person that you love. So it wasn't until, you know, my dad and my family seeing death that we had to be like, all right, we got to be on the same page, and we got to talk about this stuff.
GROSS: Is your father well now?
MINHAJ: Yeah. He's doing much better. He's doing much better, you know, but it's one of those things where he's not a big guy, so having that many arteries clog, quintuple bypass, it was a big change on his life. You know, it's never been the same, and it's a very humbling procedure. They saw your chest open. They open you up. And so that scar is still on his chest, and I still, you know, I still see it. You know, it's one of those things where you can still see the stitches that go all the way up to his neck. It's one of those things where it's a reminder of, you know, your parent's mortality...
GROSS: Yeah. I imagine since your father had such control over your life in some ways - or at least tried to have it when you were growing up...
GROSS: ...To see his mortality, to see his vulnerability because I know what it's like to have a father who's recovering from bypass. And, like, in that first period, like, you are so vulnerable and so weak. And for a lot of people, they lose a lot of their memory for a while.
MINHAJ: Yeah, yeah.
GROSS: And so like it's, you know - it's very upsetting, and you know - you never know for sure how much are they going to be able to become the person who you knew? How much will they get back to that place?
MINHAJ: That guy who would just sort of rule the house - rule over me specifically with an iron fist, he's helpless in this Kaiser hospital bed. It was just too weird, and it's so bizarre that for years, I wished he wasn't so stern and had, you know - I was like, oh, God, one day if dad just didn't have the energy to always criticize me. And then that day I'm sitting with him in the hospital, and I'm like I wish he had the energy to criticize me. You know, it was just a trip, you know?
GROSS: My guest is Hasan Minhaj, a correspondent on "The Daily Show." His new comedy special "Homecoming King" will be available on Netflix starting next Tuesday. We'll talk about "The Daily Show" after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Hasan Minhaj, a correspondent on "The Daily Show." His new comedy special "Homecoming King" is about growing up the son of Muslim immigrants from India.
There's a moment in your show that I really love - and I don't know. I mean, there are a lot of moments I really love, but I'm going to mention this one.
GROSS: You talk about how you auditioned for "The Daily Show" and how you got the job and everything. And then you say to Jon Stewart, Jon, my dad knows you.
MINHAJ: (Laughter) Yeah.
GROSS: And, like, I love that because your father probably had no frame of reference for any of the comedy you were doing or for any of your comedy...
MINHAJ: Nothing, yeah.
GROSS: Nothing. But I guess he knew "The Daily Show."
MINHAJ: Yeah. "The Daily Show" oddly became the current equivalent of journalism. You - he actually would see clips of it, and he held Jon in the same esteem that he would hold, you know, Dan Rather. So to him he was like, oh, this is a guy who's actually doing something good for society. And I would, you know, sometimes tell him, you know, dad, you know, Jon is a stand-up comedian. He's like, no, no, no, he's - this guy - he's a news anchor. He's just funny.
He doesn't tell jokes to drunk people at 1 o'clock in the morning. That's what you do. This guy's not a clown. He's a real, you know, the real deal. And so when I had that moment when I got the job, I wanted to share that Oscar speech with Jon. All I could say was like my dad knows you, and he's like, all right, I'm sure he does. All right, man. I'll see you later. Like, Jon doesn't understand the magnitude of what that meant, but for me it was a huge deal. I had been doing stand-up 10 years one month and nine days. And to finally have something where your parents know what it is, it was just - it meant everything to me.
GROSS: So let's change directions a little bit here.
GROSS: On "The Daily Show," you did a piece at the Republican National Convention...
GROSS: ...About the proposed Muslim ban and the proposed deportation of Muslims, things Donald Trump was talking about. So you interviewed people at the convention. Were these delegates that you were talking to you?
MINHAJ: Yeah. These were delegates.
GROSS: OK. So this was a field piece for "The Daily Show," and I want to play some of the conversations you were having with delegates. So here's Hasan Minhaj.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE DAILY SHOW")
MINHAJ: What's the best thing about Oklahoma?
UNIDENTIFIED DELEGATE #1: The Oklahoma Sooners.
UNIDENTIFIED DELEGATE #2: We call it Maui (speaking foreign language) which means Maui is the best.
MINHAJ: Wow. I would love to go there sometime.
UNIDENTIFIED DELEGATE #2: You're always welcome to come.
MINHAJ: I would love to come down and see a game.
UNIDENTIFIED DELEGATE #1: Yes. Come.
MINHAJ: I can't.
UNIDENTIFIED DELEGATE #1: Why?
MINHAJ: I'm a Muslim, and if Donald Trump is elected, he's probably going to throw me out.
UNIDENTIFIED DELEGATE #1: Oh, I don't think so.
MINHAJ: Well, he has already asked for a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the country, and he's asked for American-Muslims to sign up for a registry.
UNIDENTIFIED DELEGATE #1: Well, you kind of have to understand just a little bit of where he's coming from.
MINHAJ: Where he's coming from? Maybe someplace like this?
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JAKE TAPPER: You told CNN, quote, "Islam hates us." Did you mean all 1.6 billion Muslims?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I mean a lot of them. I mean a lot of them.
MINHAJ: But for some reason, Republicans don't seem too worried.
UNIDENTIFIED DELEGATE #3: He's a guy that shoots off the hip and says things politically incorrect, kind of wild guy.
MINHAJ: Sometimes the racist stuff just comes right off the hip.
UNIDENTIFIED DELEGATE #3: Comes off the hip. Yeah, yeah.
MINHAJ: What can you do? Bang, bang.
UNIDENTIFIED DELEGATE #3: Bang, bang.
UNIDENTIFIED DELEGATE #4: Donald Trump isn't going to kick the Muslims out of the United States.
MINHAJ: Well, you think he's going to be nicer to Muslims?
UNIDENTIFIED DELEGATE #4: I don't know what Donald Trump's going to do. You never know what Donald Trump's going to do, right?
MINHAJ: That's what I'm scared about.
GROSS: OK. That's Hasan Minhaj doing a piece at the Republican National Convention for "The Daily Show."
GROSS: After the election, you did a piece on "The Daily Show"...
GROSS: ...And it ended with you talking about how your mother at that moment was in India visiting family. And she called you and said to you, do you think it's safe for me to come home? You know, do you think I'll be able to come home back to America? And you said...
GROSS: ...I don't know.
MINHAJ: (Sighing). Yeah.
GROSS: So it sounds like it was a horrible, frightening moment for you. What was the outcome of that?
MINHAJ: We got her home ASAP because I didn't know. We were doing a live show that night. It was our election night special. We had a script written that was, you know - it followed what we thought was going to happen, that Hillary Clinton would be president. As the states - the results were coming in, we're literally tearing apart our script. We're rewriting a one-hour live show in real time. And I'm on WhatsApp audio with my mom - my mom being like, we're watching the news. I'm with your grandma. What's going on?
And so I'm trying to write jokes about Trump winning the election while I'm on kayak.com, like, looking up tickets for her to come back. I'm also looking up, like, what's the legal recourse? How does it work? All of a sudden, I have to become an immigration attorney, a son and a comedian all in one. It was just - it was a horrible 48 hours. It was the worst. It was the worst. And not knowing that everything will be OK was just really awful. It was really, really awful.
GROSS: But you managed to get her home.
MINHAJ: We did. We did. We managed to get her home before the Muslim ban happened, too. I didn't want to risk anything. Like, we got her home - she was supposed to be there for several months, and we just got her home ASAP.
GROSS: So we should take another break here.
GROSS: So let me reintroduce you. My guest is Hasan Minhaj. He's a correspondent on "The Daily Show." He was the comic at this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner, and now he has a new one-man show, a comedy show, on Netflix. It goes on Netflix May 23. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is comic Hasan Minhaj, and he is a correspondent on "The Daily Show." He just did the White House Correspondents' Dinner as the comic there. And now he has a new comedy one-man show that's very autobiographical. It's very moving in addition to being very funny. It's called "Homecoming King." And it goes up on Netflix May 23.
So I want to ask you about the White House Correspondents' Dinner, which is an annual dinner. And it's in part a roast of the president and of the media in which a guest comic, like you, is invited to be the host and the roaster. And then usually...
GROSS: ...In the past few presidencies, you know, the president gets up and does comedy, too, and that usually turns into a roast as well.
But this year, you know, President Trump decided not to go. The day of the White House Correspondents' Dinner, he chose to do a rally in Pennsylvania.
GROSS: And so you were in the position of making jokes about a president who decided not to attend. You say in your monologue, nobody wanted this job this time around...
MINHAJ: (Laughter) Yes.
GROSS: ...So, of course, it went to an immigrant. But...
GROSS: ...Is it true that nobody wanted the job? Did a lot of people turn it down because...
MINHAJ: Yeah. I mean...
GROSS: What were the reasons...
MINHAJ: ...It was pretty...
GROSS: ...That they turned it down?
MINHAJ: It was pretty public, you know. James Corden had passed on it. Quite a few, you know, comedians were in talks to do it. It was this really, really strange hot-potato situation. So the narrative going into the dinner was, is the dinner even going to happen? You know, when I got the call to do it, it was about three weeks before the event, which was April 29. And it was one of those things where I did my research, and I found out that - wait, the White House Correspondents' Association is just a group of journalists who cover the White House. Like, they're not King Joffrey's goons. They don't work for the president.
So all those people that you see in those press briefings that are fighting every day with the administration - April Ryans, all of them - they are part of that group, that collection of journalists that are trying to do a good job.
Number two - I didn't know this either - they give scholarships to students - like, future journalists. So what really bummed me out was - wow, so all these celebrities pulled out. All these other news, media organizations don't want to be here. If there was any year to be there, this is the year. This is the year where fighting for free speech and fighting for an open press - this is the year to fight for it. And so when I got asked to do it, I was like, I think this could be a really interesting opportunity. I was scared - but I think it could be really, really interesting, and I could have something to say.
GROSS: You say in your monologue at the White House Correspondents' Dinner that you were told not to roast the president in absentia. Is that true?
MINHAJ: Yeah. Yeah. When I was announced, Jeff Mason went on "Morning Joe," and he said he was not looking for somebody who's going to roast the president in absentia. That's not fair, and that's not the message that we want to get across. That was his quote, you know. And if you look at the original press release, he reiterates the same point. When we would talk on the phone, he was - and I understand where the White House Correspondents' Association was coming from. They're put in such a weird position because, again, I'm the comedian. I can come in and make jokes, but they have to deal with the administration every single day. And we weren't even on day 100 by the time - like, it was day 100 by the time the event was happening.
So you know, I understand where he was coming from. But the irony to me was the theme of the night was about honoring the First Amendment. And you want me to - like, censor myself. That, to me - just, I couldn't do it. I just couldn't find myself do it, especially in - given the fact that the person that I'm roasting, the president, is someone who has so exploited that incredible privilege of free speech. The man who tweets whatever enters his head doesn't even want to honor the amendment that allows him to do it. That to me just blows my mind. So I wanted to make the conscious choice of - hey, I will roast his merit. And I will roast the decisions he's made. But I have to talk about this.
GROSS: So let's hear how you handled it. And this is the section of the White House Correspondents' Dinner where you're actually making some jokes about President Trump.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MINHAJ: You know, a lot of people told me, Hasan, if you go after the administration, it would be petty, unfair and childish, in other words, presidential, so here we go.
MINHAJ: I get why Donald Trump didn't want to be roasted tonight. By the looks of him, he's been roasting nonstop for the past 70 years. Historically, the president usually performs at the Correspondents' Dinner, but I think I speak for all of us when I say he's done far too much bombing this month.
MINHAJ: Now, a lot of people in the media say that Donald Trump goes golfing too much, you guys are always like, he goes golfing too much, which raises a very important question. Why do you care? Do you want to do - do you want to know what he's not doing when he's golfing? Being president.
MINHAJ: Let the man putt-putt. Keep him distracted. Teach him how to play badminton. Tell him he has a great body for bobsledding. Play him tic-tac-toe. The longer you keep him distracted, the longer we're not at war with North Korea.
GROSS: And that's Hasan Minhaj recently at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. When you hear groans like we did after some of your jokes, do you take that as a good thing? (Laughter).
MINHAJ: After the fact, yes. When you're in the room, no. And...
GROSS: That is a tough room.
MINHAJ: Oh, my God. It's the toughest show I've ever done in my life. It's really, really hard. You have been invited to their dinner. It's a dinner for journalists honoring journalists. And then you come in at the end, and you make fun of them, so it's very difficult. Also, you know, there's representatives on both sides of the aisle, so there's a lot of groans in places that you normally wouldn't get groans. I worked on the set in comedy clubs, and people were cheering and wooing. That's not what I got when I got in that room.
But the piece of advice that I got from Larry Wilmore and a lot of the other performers that had performed before me was hey, it's going to be one of the strangest rooms you've ever done, keep your foot on the gas and do not apologize. And I figured if I can just get to my closing statement where I talked about what it feels like to be a minority, they would actually see I'm coming from a good place because the importance of great journalism is more important now more than ever.
And if I can frame it through my cognitive framework of being a minority in America and being like, hey, look, this is what it's like to be brown in America, and if you want to survive the age of Trump, you've got to think like a minority because that's the way journalists are being treated. You know, you got to be twice as good for half the credit. When one of you messes up, they blame the entire group. This is what I've dealt with, so here's my advice. You know, and I think that that became a unifying point.
GROSS: Hasan Minhaj, it's been really great to talk with you. Thank you so much.
MINHAJ: Thanks for having me, Terry. I appreciate it.
GROSS: Hasan Minhaj is a correspondent for "The Daily Show." His comedy special "Homecoming King" will be available on Netflix starting next Tuesday. If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed like with Rhiannon Giddens, who also performs some songs, Noah Hawley, the creator of the TV series "Fargo," and Ari Berman, who talked about voting rights, voter suppression and President Trump's new Election Integrity Commission, check out our podcast. You'll find those and other interviews.
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GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie and Thea Chaloner. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.