Earlier this year Harvard Law student Pete Davis deployed a clever analogy- the Netflix ‘loop’– to illustrate some obvious but important truths about our generation. Stung, Husband and I stopped our idle postprandial surfing. Now, our decisive streaming is followed by a sleepy but educational post mortem. This is how we discovered Hasan Minhaj, brown comedic force and necessary cultural counterweight to Trump’s America. In Homecoming, his first Netflix special, he dissects the pain and awkwardness of his childhood to expose inconvenient truths about the immigrant experience. In doing so, he turns what could have been a sweetly benign coming of age story into discomfiting political commentary. Naturally, we were hooked.
With Patriot Act, his new show, it’s gloves- off time. This is Minhaj at his confrontational best, directing his rage and bafflement at the other person in the room and the other half of his existence- America. This is a messy two person house; there is a misalignment of values and growing unease on both sides, and every conflict needs addressing. The show is a public version of couple’s therapy, with Minhaj pointing fingers but also trying to reason and empathise with the other party. Unpacking issues that should resonate with anyone that cares about fairness and justice, he rants on an all- pixels set that marries theatre stage and newsroom. Episode 1 uses Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder to pry open the gridlock of America’s hypocritical, opportunistic relationship with Saudi Arabia’s dictatorial regime. He chucks the boundaries between personal and political out the window and agonises over reconciling his faith with his patriotism. In Episode 2, he deconstructs the clusterfuck that is the Asians and Asian Americans lawsuit against Harvard Admissions, revealing the sinister motivations of its key actors. His defence of affirmative action in American education is the best I’ve seen. It ends with several facepalm-y mentions of desi notables and an impassioned plea for good sense. In Episode 3, the latest, he gleefully guilt trips us for our overreliance on Amazon, then peels back layers to reveal an unchecked corporate behemoth bent on world domination. It turns out they’re not even playing the game we think they’re playing.
For someone taking on such complex material, Minhaj is an easy watch. His style is human slinky- tense when it needs to be, breezy and expansive in bursts, always riveting as he tumbles from fact to funny anecdote. If you’re not watching him right now you’re missing the most hilarious, politically astute commentary on our times. Please do. And oh- you’re going to love the opening track.
Art by Emmen Ahmed