Some people tuned in every week for the topics, broken down into digestible chunks and accompanied with informative and oftentimes funny graphics on the gigantic video display adorning the wall behind the host. Some tuned in for the host’s jokes, the quick wit that he regularly turned on himself, his subjects, and even his in-studio audience but never with the intention to harm, only entertain. But some — the few and the proud — tuned in for the fits, and to see which pair of runway-ready kicks he’d matched with his collection of trendy sweaters and shirts as he lampooned world leaders and explained looming crises.
Netflix’s Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj may be “off the air” as of this summer, but the host himself has already found his next gig — and a way to continue the good works he often championed with the show, albeit one that is a bit more down-to-earth. The comedian, cultural critic, and television host can now be seen on Apple TV’s The Morning Show alongside Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Steve Carell in a recurring role as a “charismatic, rising star who joins The Morning Show team,” according to Deadline. The new gig will help him fund his self-described “crippling” sneaker habit, but for those who don’t have the benefit of appearing on multiple streaming services, he put a twist on one of the tactics he used to great effect on Patriot Act.
One of his favorite “running gags” was to create websites to help viewers find workarounds to corporate shenanigans, such as a website that took users to free tax preparation software in an episode decrying Turbo Tax’s borderline false advertising of its own “free” site. Minhaj also created websites for users to buy merch with the proceeds going to protect the Amazon rainforest and other worthwhile causes. This past November, he partnered with financial lending startup Affirm for its “Gifts Not Gotchas” holiday campaign. The campaign was Affirm’s bid to highlight its differences from credit card companies and call out industry practices of hiding deferred interest, fees, and other tricks in the fine print of “special offers.”
The campaign gave away $1 million to users for videos of their best fine print readings, shining a light on hidden fees and other “gotcha” terms in confusingly worded blocks of text in credit card or recurring payment agreements. Minhaj partnered with Affirm to encourage fellow sneakerheads to use the service when shopping on sites like StockX and GOAT to help them avoid “gotcha” fees and stay within their budgets as they do their holiday shopping (and pick up one or two pairs for themselves, of course). In his own words, “This is a great way people can fit in gifts and shopping within their budget without regretting it later.”
He tells me as much over the phone as we discuss the partnership, his favorite episodes of Patriot Act, his future plans, the upcoming NBA season, and of course, our favorite pairs of sneakers to squeeze into our monthly budgets.
Why did you feel the need to educate consumers about fees, and traps, and fine print?
A lot of folks who follow my work, they’re our age, they’re our generation or younger. As we know with our generation, one of the things that we were not taught in school was financial literacy. With the holidays coming up, I know a lot of people are spending money on gifts for themselves and for loved ones.
If you’ve been on any of the websites that I personally shop on, whether it’s StockX, or Adidas, or GOAT, Affirm is just a way that people can pay for things in a manageable way that fits into their holiday budget without fine print or any “gotcha” language in there that will end up getting people caught up later. So your payment, your interest, and all that is upfront. You have no late fees, no hidden fees. And I figured, look, with the holidays coming around, this is a great way people can fit in gifts and shopping within their budget without regretting it later.
Ironically, my old job used to be the exact opposite. I used to work at Bally Total Fitness. So my job was trying to sign people up for these predatory contracts. I felt terrible every day.
You were using your forearm to cover up the fine print at the bottom. You’re just like, “Oh, just sign here. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s all good.”
So you were talking about your favorite merchant retailers, StockX, GOAT, Adidas, all those other guys. Which one’s your favorite? What was your last purchase on it?
My personal favorite is StockX and that is out of pure nepotism because I’m friends with Josh Luber, who is the founder of StockX. He was actually one of my first interviews at The Daily Show, in regards to the sneaker resale market. And at the time, he had launched this website called StockX, and I just needed the “expert” to talk to about reselling.
To me, it represented a huge, generational change between what we went through growing up. You will probably get it. You literally had to endure multiple hoops to jump through in order to get a specific shoe that you wanted. They became a third-party authenticator to be like, “All right, you can still be at home and try to get the shoe that you want.” And so I’ve used StockX a lot. The last shoe that I got on StockX was the Nike SB Dunk Parra, believe it or not. I got a feel for the Dunks. I think a low-top, chunky shoe is dope. I’m usually an Air Max 1 guy, but the Nike SB Parra was really cool. I’m really into collabs right now. I think that’s really dope.
I can’t do the collabs, because, well, one, they’re out of my price range, but two, it’s just so hard to get ahold of them. I remember when the Supreme SB Dunks with the stars on them came out in 2003. I tried to take the bus from my high school down to Proper in Long Beach, and it was right there. And I could just grab it and go.
This is actually my take on the whole sneaker hype, resale, “Is this hot, is this not?” thing. Honestly, you can still get really dope shoes. For me, it’s all about the connection you have with the specific shoe. I remember looking at StockX just the other day, and they had the Nike Shox BB4, which was one of the hottest shoes when I was in high school, the Vince Carter’s for $70. They were below retail. I almost wanted to get them, but I’m not hooping right now. We’re living through a pandemic.
But I realized so much of what we buy into is the Veblen good nature of the hype machine. And for me, if you think it’s a dope shoe, you should wear it. I think another shoe that was really dope that I liked that isn’t crazy, crazy on the hype list that I just saw recently where I was like, “Oh, this is a really cool shoe.” I thought Justin Timberlake in his Jordan 3 was really dope. I just think it’s cool that a lot of these brands are starting to do collaborations with athletes, non-athletes, female designers.
A big part of why I think sneaker culture got big was because of sites like Nice Kicks, Sneaker News, Kicks On Fire, and they would do the celebrity weekly roundups. And people just started picking their favorites. I think you would have definitely been one of those people had you been a little bit earlier to the game. Who would be some of your sneaker heroes from that era?
I’m going to say this just to plug my fellow comedians. I think Jason Sudeikis has a fire rotation and gets slept on a lot. People sleep on Sudeikis, man. If you just type in “Jason Sudeikis sneakers,” go to Google images, You’ll be like, “Whoa, I didn’t know he had these.” And he’s been doing the red carpet, sneaker flex. I think he wore Bred 11s to the Met Gala. He’s been around.
It’s cause he’s white.
It is because he’s white.
Speaking of, your Vanity Fair lie detector test recently resurfaced and went dummy viral. Did you think when you saw it, “Isn’t this two years old? Why is this happening right now?” And people were talking about how they could see the moment you made the decision, “I’m going in.” Did you really say, “F*ck it, I’m going in?” How did that work out?
The thing that it tapped into was definitely this feeling of, for a lot of people of color, there’s this feeling that we have to be extraordinary. To achieve the same opportunities, you have to work twice as much. And I think that’s the feeling that it really tapped into. I genuinely love Dax. That was the thing. Even on Twitter, I was like, “Yo, Dax looks great without a shirt, for the record.” He has an amazing body shirtless. Shout out to him. He’s had me on the podcast. He’s a good dude. So I’m not looking at life as a zero-sum game. He’s genuinely a great, talented dude.
I think the emotion that I hit was for a lot of folks, with people that are trying to break into Hollywood or break into these other industries, it tapped into that emotion of, man, I got to be extraordinary. Being ordinary is just a choice to make. And so I think that’s where people were like, “Yo, I feel that.”
Speaking of living down your viral moments, you actually just re-posted your NBA Awards prediction that LaMelo Ball will never make the NBA. You have to eat your words, sir. How do they taste?
Look, man, one of the things that I think is horrible is when a comedian cannot laugh at themselves. So if I dish it, I got to be able to take it. So I have gone on the record with some hot takes. If I’m willing to dump on people, I got to be willing to get dumped on. He pulled the John Starks, all of the Bulls on me.
Then you had to show your own hoop skills at the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. Honestly, I love hooping, but I also do not ever want to do that in front of people. What is the sense of playing on that level, in an arena with people watching you, millions of people watching you on TV?
So I’m going to just put it this way, nothing’s more humiliating than doing stand-up comedy. If you’re in a basement at two o’clock in the morning trying to make drunk people laugh, you cannot fall off the floor. So there is no amount of humiliation that ESPN can do to me that I haven’t already willingly endured through life. So I live my life by the saying, “Life is short, wear your Jordans.” The window of me being “relevant” is only so long. There’s only going to be so many years that I can get invited to be a part of it. I’ve always wanted to wear NBA licensed material.
Back in the day, we used to get those Champion jerseys but when you play in this, they got the real patches. I was always used to buying replicas. So that feeling of being able to play with officially licensed products… You don’t have to wipe your shoes every three seconds because it’s not a dusty gym at a 24 Hour Fitness on the weekend. As you can see — you can go back to the footage — I shoot as many times as possible. I’ve been swatted before on live television, but I’ve also made some critical hoops too. And I think that’s a great life lesson, “stay in the game, and you can do it.”
I remember just sitting in the locker room and realizing, “Yo, it’s anybody’s game.” It’s JB Smoove, Bad Bunny. None of us are professional athletes. We might as well just launch every time. So shoot your shot, don’t pass, and have fun, man. That’s what it’s all about.
Coming back full circle, we were talking about how I would get excited about certain Patriot Act topics and I would re-post them on my social media and that was how we developed a give and take. What was the one that you were the most excited about? You got this topic and you were like, “Man, nobody cares about this, but I’m going in.”
I was thinking about this the other day. I was thinking about our student loans episode because that really popped. And then I had the opportunity to testify before Congress, in regards to the student loans, and financial industry, the loans industry itself. I thought that was just a really powerful thing, especially just for our generation. I think my generation is saddled with college debt, and it’s one of the biggest political issues. I would say one of the biggest issues of 2020 that I think is really important. Anytime you get to be a part of something that resonates beyond just someone’s laptop, or cell phone, and it actually touches the real world, those were really cool moments.
I know you’re going to miss your big video board. I know you’re going to miss the ability to just have the graphic pop up instantaneously while you’re explaining things, but what was something about the show that maybe you’re a little relieved you don’t have to do anymore?
I think the thing I’m definitely happiest about with moving on is not having to live in the news every day. Now, I’m on the show called The Morning Show on Apple TV and that’s a one-hour drama, and we’re exploring narrative themes rather than being a news-driven show. I think that’s been really, really good for me. Living in the mire and muck of the day-to-day happenings of the White House or global news can take a toll on you mentally. So that’s one thing where I’m like, “Thank God, I don’t have to check the news 24 hours a day.” Or I’ll be midway through a script, and they’re like, “Oh, well, we got to change that because this has changed now.”
I’m used to interviewing rappers so there have definitely been a few where they feel like people are out to get them, but there’s a huge difference between rap beef and beefing with dictators.
Right, I’m not pissing off any dictators or autocrats. I’m doing big-budget, one-hour dramas. That’s great. I’m cool with that. I’m doing my scenes with Reese Witherspoon and Jen Aniston. They’re national treasures, so I’m set.
Do you have any thoughts or predictions about the upcoming NBA season? Who do you think is going to take it all? Who do you think is going to the playoffs?
I will say this: I’m excited the season’s coming back. And I know some players aren’t cool to coming back so quick, but as we still await the vaccine and we’re still living through quarantine, I’m so glad Adam and the league are bringing us basketball. Christmas Day basketball’s going to be great. I think, and I say this… My heart breaks as a Sacramento Kings fan, I think the Lakers will win again. They’ve stacked themselves up properly. That breaks my heart. But I think it will be interesting to see how other teams shape up, and they’re going to contest. But LA’s the team to beat right now.
I thought you’d be a Warriors fan (this is bait).
No, bro. Aaron, don’t insult me, bro. I’m a Sacramento Kings fan. There’s a big rivalry between Sacramento and the Bay area. It’s one-sided, but it’s there.
I am literally looking at the Sacramento Kings roster like, “How can I mess with him?”
Don’t sleep on us. Don’t sleep on De’Aaron Fox. Don’t sleep on us. And don’t sleep on Buddy while we still have him.
Ever since you explained how to say your name properly to Ellen, what would you say is the percentage of times people get your name right versus incorrectly now?
You know what’s been cool? I think I give it 70/30, but the coolest thing about it has been people have just doubled back and asked, “Hey, did I get that right?” And I appreciate the consideration.
You do so many interviews, and people are always asking you certain questions. You hear certain things over and over again. I’m sure you’ve probably heard a lot of these questions before. What’s one question you wish someone would ask you that no one ever has?
What is the one item that you can’t live without? I’ve been dying to talk about this.
I’m a big fan of the uni-ball Vision Elite pen, and not enough people talk about this. I’m a big pen fan. The uni-ball Vision Elite is a phenomenal pen. It’s great. I spent my entire life, 34 years of my life, writing with crappy BIC pens. Not trying to take shots at BIC, but the pens aren’t great. uni-ball comes correct. It flows on paper really great. It doesn’t smudge or grease, and I’m a huge uni-ball pen collector. I love them.
I can’t do it, man. They go right through the paper. I write too fast.
Look, man, when you write with the uni-ball Vision Elite, bro, it feels like you’re about to sign an important piece of legislation. You feel as important. I know it sounds small, but those little talismans… Those are the only things that you feel like you have control over, agency over these days. So I’m a fan of it.