With ‘Patriot Act,’ Hasan Minhaj Wants To Tell Stories That Are Both Urgent And Timeless

News & Culture Writer
10.26.18 2 Comments

Mark Seliger for Netflix

Trying to nail down a time to talk to Hasan Minhaj about Patriot Act, his new Netflix series, is quite the challenge. Not that this should come as a surprise, though, because the former Daily Show correspondent turned Netflix comedy star is in high demand these days. Not only did the streaming service give him and his team an “unprecedented” 32-episode order for Patriot Act, but his sketch comedy troupe Goatface will soon drop a new special on Comedy Central. So yeah, getting in touch is tough, but not impossible.

So after some production schedule shifts and a last-minute showrunner meeting, Minhaj graciously hopped on the phone to chat about the final days before the Patriot Act premiere drops this Sunday. Understandably tired but ready to go, the 33-year-old comedian laughs when I ask him how exhausted he is, and whether or not the 32-episode order was a bit much. Despite all the long days and numerous delays, however, Minhaj is no less excited about the prospect of doing something entirely new.

Sounds like you’ve had a pretty busy day.

I mean, we’re launching a show and it’s that time, you know? It’s all the jitters. It’s all the excitement, the cuts, the edits, the tweaks and the revisions of the final thing before you show it to the world.

Do you thrive in these kinds of moments? Or do you find that you sometimes need a break?

I think the biggest thing that I try to do in those moments of pure chaos and excitement is, I just try to quiet things down in my head. I try to really think about, “What do I want to say and share with the world?” Sometimes that gets tough, but I try to remind myself as an artist that the best things I’ve contributed to in my career have been those times when I’ve honored those things that I really, really feel deep down in my heart.

Netflix gave you guys a 32-episode order from the get-go. Was that a big confidence booster, or did you see it as more of a challenge?

For me, the biggest thing is I’ve been working on the concept of Patriot Act for the past two years. When the time came to take that idea out to the marketplace, I shot my own proof of concept. I’ve always had a very clear vision for the way I wanted the show to look and feel. To be executed, even. It was tailor-made for my strengths and what I wanted to do as an artist. Netflix really connected with it. They really loved the proof of concept and the vision we had for it. This is how I do storytelling, like in Homecoming King, so I’ve tailored the show around these strengths as a performer and storyteller. That gave them that confidence to go, “I think this type of show needs to exist on our platform.”

A lot of time, when creators bring a show to the marketplace, it’s their idea. It’s an idea in their head, and maybe something’s written down on paper, but that’s it. It’s not a video link that you can hit “play” on and go, “This is the exact vision, right here, from minute 0:00 to 23:00. All 23 minutes of it.” But we decided to do that, so we could show directly how it starts, how it takes off and how it ends. Even the credits. You see all of it. You can touch it and feel it, and I think that’s what really made this special, and what convinced Netflix to become such huge supporters and fans of it. So I’m glad it worked out. I’m glad they believe in me now.

Cara Howe for Netflix

You and series co-creator Prashanth Venkataramanujam have worked together frequently these past few years. Was he a part of this from the get-go, or did you bring him on later?

Coming out of Homecoming King, we started chatting about what I wanted to do next. What we wanted to work on together, that is. We’ve written movies and TV shows together. He consulted on Homecoming King and was the head writer for the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. To have that brotherly and artistic connection with someone is really special. It’s one of those things where I told him the idea that I had for Patriot Act and we just started writing it together. What was originally a sort of loose idea for a one-man show became these episodic bits. For each of these acts I was thinking, “Oh, this is going to be a one-man show,” and then they became episodes. I realized this was a series, so we started writing it out together. It was just the two of us. We started researching stuff and really fleshing it out. I can’t tell you how great it’s been, working with Prashanth.

Were you guys tackling it as a one-person show for a while, or did it quickly turn into the series?

It happened pretty quickly. I was spitballing with him. I said, “I have an act that I’m thinking about. It’s on this and that, and I was thinking act two could be this and act three could be that.” One of the things I noticed was, there wasn’t a clear narrative thread to connect these acts. It was just a loose set of experiences I had had on various topics or issues. All these things that were, and still are, happening in America and around the globe. That’s when I realized what it was and told Prashanth, “These are episodes!”

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