In his new Netflix special, Homecoming King (which you can stream on Netflix right now), Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj opens up about his childhood, his family, and encountering a subtle (but still, gut-churning) type of racism.
We spoke to Minhaj about crafting his show, the value of the one man/one woman show style and using graphics to make a larger impact with his storytelling, and his desire to inspire conversation and, through that, change. And while Homecoming King doesn’t touch on Donald Trump’s impact, Minhaj’s day job leads us to discuss being defiant at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner, calling out the press for its “everything is a thing” mentality, and the effect the Daily Show has had on the mainstream media.
This is a very personal show. It’s a show that’s trying to make a point and a very confident show. Where did you start and how did the show kind of get to that point where you were ready to be this revealing?
I started doing stand-up in college. I grew up in northern California. You saw the special so you kind of know where I grew up and where I’m from. I started there. I was a big fan of speech and debate in high school. To me stand-up comedy was funny speech and debate. I end up doing stand up for about nine or ten years.
The thing where I didn’t feel as satisfied from just my performance in the medium, was that I felt like I was hitting a wall in terms of the notes that I could hit doing a traditional stand-up set which is kind of just like a mixed grab bag. It’s almost like a mixtape of thoughts and ideas — here’s a little bit about relationships, here’s a little bit about politics, here’s a little bit about me — and you sort of string them together. I got exposed to The Moth and really seeing what Mike Birbiglia did there and seeing what Colin Quinn has done in the one man show space and then a lot of the European comics in Edinburgh and London, they’ll develop these entire shows around a central concept or theme. I remember seeing them and I go, “this feels like a whole meal.”
I started workshopping early versions of Homecoming King around 2013. I started doing The Moth and Catherine Burns, who is the creative director of Moth, was like, this could really be a show. I just started fleshing it out and working on it more and more and then I took it to Sundance and sort of finished it there. After I finished it there I started working at The Daily Show. I took it off-Broadway while I was in New York and then toured it and now it’s a special.
I feel like with stand up, and I was talking to Paul Provenza about this, he directs a lot of one man shows and he was telling me, you can play notes A through M with stand-up whereas with a one-man show — because you’re in the theater, you have lighting changes — you can do other things with mood, exposition, lighting, even graphics behind you to establish a point. You can play notes N through Z. It allows me to still be funny and do bits but then it allows me to have big chunks where I can just kind of be serious if I need to be. Having that emotional and creative room is something that really spoke to me.
How does the show differ from the stage version to the version that’s on Netflix?
There’s the stage version, that Greg Walloch directed. Then the special that you see on Netflix was directed by Chris Storer. That’s where we had to sort of take the MTV Unplugged version and then make it this bigger theater production. That meant I had to work with Chris Storer who’s the director and Marc Janowitz who was the set designer. Marc is brilliant — his background is actually in music. His ability to convey mood and basically break up the acts with the LED panels and the lighting design, that was really… he designed that as well as Hugo and Marie, who were the creative directors, and Sam Spratt who was the artistic director, who actually made all those Norman Rockwell-y paintings that you see behind me.