Hasan Minhaj is a comedian, actor, writer, performer and all-around news junkie. He's now using his politically-infused wit to entertain on The Daily Show as the Senior Correspondent. I caught up with Hasan about comedy, news, working for a different boss, and more.
Before you were "Hasan Minhaj, Comedian," who were you, back in Davis, California?
I was actually a really, sort of nervous shy kid. In high school, it was one of those things where I wasn't popular or a loser, I just don't think many people really knew who I was.
How did you get your comedy start? Was there any point where you thought, okay, this is what I want to do when I'm older? Or did it occur more organically?
Well, really, I did speech and debate in high school, and then when I was a Freshman in college I had never seen stand-up before and I saw Chris Rock's Never Scared at a friend's apartment and I thought, wow this is funny speech and debate -- I should give this a try and see what happens.
Who are some comedians who inspired you?
Chris Rock, probably of all-time. Bill Burr, Louis [CK], and Jon Stewart.
Who is the one comedian to keep an eye on right now?
I would say, hmm, I can't give you one, but I'd say a bunch of people are doing really really interesting things. John Mulaney, Ron Funches, Vicky Manwar.
You joined The Daily Show as a correspondent back in 2014, do you have a favorite moment since your debut?
The Jon Stewart finale was unreal, and my Justin Trudeau interview.
What happens behind the scenes? I imagine there's a lot of laughing going on when the cameras are off. Is it in any way like your 'typical' office job?
Yeah, it's really great. We're all friends, we hang out, and what's awesome is that from the top-down there's sort of this "no asshole" attitude. Everybody is really great and contributing, and it's a really safe place to talk about ideas and what's happening in the world. I'm very lucky to have this job.
The show is revolutionary in the way it combines journalism with hilarity, we see a similar approach with other shows such as SNL. Why is humor so effective when discussing more serious topics?
As satirists we get to stand on the sidelines of life and comment on what's happening. And because we're not telling any political, corporate, or religious lines, we're able to honestly say things how they really are.
What's it like spending time around Jon Stewart?
He's as amazing as advertised. Honest, thoughtful, sincere. And a comedy Jedi.
Any distinct differences between Jon and Trevor Noah?
The biggest difference between Jon and Trevor: Jon is like the Jewish Yoda and Trevor is like a comedy contemporary, where we are collaborating and going back and forth and creating, and building a new thing together.
Where do you go to get your news? Do you believe that mainstream news sources are trustworthy?
Now that I'm on the show we get our news from so many difference places. But look, I think there's a lot of people doing really really amazing, interesting things. I think The Atlantic does great work, especially Ta-Nehis's articles. Vox, they're doing interesting, sort of field and digital pieces, which I think are really great. So there are people out there fighting the good fight.
I've heard a lot of people say that they turn to comedy shows such as The Daily Show as their main source of news. Your thoughts on that?
I think that's awesome. I just hope that people get a variety of news sources to keep themselves informed.
Not surprisingly, your one man show, "Homecoming King," has left an impact on a lot of people. NPR called you an "absorbing storyteller." How did the show start?
The "Homecoming King" show started off as a storytelling show that I had done, I worked with Greg Walloch to develop it and build it into something bigger.
You talk about living the American Dream. Do you think, or worry, that for many the opportunity to climb the socioeconomic ladder is getting more difficult?
I think that we live in a time where, for certain marginalized groups, life itself is already really hard. With taxes and relationships and work and life and death and disease, and horrible things that happen in life, race is just one of those things that is just an added nuisance on top of the difficulties of everyday life in existence.
I would hope that things are getting better, I'm an angry optimist in the sense that I think that there's a lot more room to grow, but we live in an amazing time and a lot of good is happening in the world. We have a long way to go, but the needle is moving forward.
I love how you have a spot on the "Homecoming King" website specifically devoted to giving others a voice -- encouraging them to send in similar stories. What kind of response have you received?
I've received some of the most amazing, heartfelt responses. And to me the reason why I asked people to share their stories is because if it's just a show about me, that's not interesting to me. But if other people can share their stories, that's what art is really about -- our collective and shared experiences.
Let's talk about being in the public eye in today's world. Is it tough doing comedy in the age of social media? Has social media helped you?
It's a double-edged sword. It's really helped me. It's really helped me get in touch with people. You know, it's how you and I actually got in touch. It's also one of those things where everybody has a voice, and it can be used negatively, and that's a problem, too.
What's your biggest piece of advice to comedians out there trying to break into the industry?
My biggest piece of advice is the same piece of advice that I heard from Conan O'Brien. Not to me personally, but I've heard him give this advice to other people: One, move to the city where they're doing what you want to do. Two, immerse yourself in a community that is doing said activity and rise within that community, and three, just be nice.
What's on your Netflix queue right now?
Right now I'm watching Luther, and I gotta say, Idris Elba is a beast.
If Donald Trump were a cereal, which one would he be?
He'd be whatever cereal cuts up your mouth and makes you say, I should never do this ever again.