By Contributor Maria Afghanzada
Nearly everyone understands how important politics are, yet we all sometimes hesitate to truly voice our own opinions on critical matters for fear of being shamed or ostracized. Hasan Minhaj, however, brings light and laughter to various areas of global politics that warrant critical discussion. As the host of Patriot Act, a satirical Netflix series that highlights underrated issues with humor, Minhaj thoroughly and objectively points out facts that his audience, and honestly everyone, needs to know. It’s so easy to neglect the suffering of millions when you’re not one of them. It’s so easy to ignore the ongoing wars worldwide when you’re not fighting in them. But Minhaj, with his relatable jokes and hilarious comments, teaches us how utterly crucial it is to be informed of what is happening in our own society and in the world.
Not knowing what’s happening in one’s own nation or throughout the world poses a huge problem: it makes us ignorant not only to suffering around us but to different perspectives and understandings throughout the world. Comprehending other perspectives opens up many avenues for all of us and helps us reach solutions to many issues. Many people ask me why it’s necessary to read the current news, especially when all it does is upset them, but that’s exactly it. When we get angry, we have to realize why we’re angry, and do something to change, or potentially fix the problem.
With Patriot Act, it’s not just about informing the world about tragedies happening worldwide–it’s also about empowering viewers to do something, anything, to change the world we live in for the better.
Patriot Act derives its name from the post-9/11 legislation that went into place to fight against domestic terrorism with increased surveillance. Coming from a Muslim man who was in grade school when the tragedy occurred, this name has deep meaning for the host. Minhaj faced a ton of backlash from his peers, and from society, for just practicing Islam. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t in any way part of a terrorist group that was oceans away–it mattered that he was Muslim. The actual American Patriot Act may have had good intentions, but the consequence was the terrorizing of American Muslims throughout the nation. By comically naming his show after the act, Minhaj cleverly proves his intentions: to inform people about worldwide issues that affect us all and to shed light on how and why these issues need to be fixed.
As a first-generation American immigrant with Indian-born parents, Minhaj has experienced what life is like both as an insider and an outsider in American culture. Surrounded by hip-hop music and baseball cards yet going home to Bollywood movies and korma, the Patriot Act host knows that finding the balance between home culture and American society as a teenager is difficult. Because of his past, Minhaj is able to speak to and about millions of first-generation Americans, regardless of their ages or ethnicities.
As Minhaj himself is South Asian and Muslim, he truly brings light to his culture and religion. He informs his audiences about holidays like Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr, making small puns along the way for non-Muslims to understand Islamic teachings. Trevor Noah, The Daily Show host and a close friend, speaks of how Minhaj is a powerful voice for American Muslims: “Patriot Act is a constant reminder that Hasan is America. And America is Hasan.”
And not only does Minhaj speak about his religion, but he also makes Indian culture a frequent topic of discussion. He humorously brings up his parents and their opinion on him doing stand-up, his ‘abnormally low’ SAT score of 1310, and his status as an ABCD–American Born Confused Desi (Desi meaning a person of Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi birth or descent who lives abroad).
Though Patriot Act spans five seasons on Netflix, the show also releases ‘Deep Cuts’ freestyle Q&A sessions on YouTube with guests ranging from desi adolescents to high profile leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In the majority of his Deep Cuts, Minhaj engages authentically with his audience and builds a strong friendly persona. With questions like “What was the biggest lie you told your parents?” and “If the show could have a Ben & Jerry’s flavor, what would it be?” his direct audience gets a good laugh and, by the end, they know Minhaj better himself.
With his online viewers, Minhaj hosts short interviews with different people to not only get a good laugh but also to question their political standings. In one interview, Minhaj played a game of “finish the sentence” with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and casually finished a sentence for him saying, “Canada will not send any more weapons to Saudi Arabia period.” Trudeau was rendered speechless, and in the end, cautiously told the host that he would not discuss Canadian law with others. Easy games like this help Minhaj with his strategic political messaging and get his viewers to see the problems happening behind the scenes throughout the world.
In one of his latest Deep Cuts called “What It’s Like to Grow Up Desi in 2019,” Minhaj interviews seven desi teenagers from the northeast about what life is like living in between their white friends and brown home culture. He asks about their curfews, if they’re allowed to date, and the latest dance moves.
Though Minhaj himself provides comic relief, the show as a whole does a great job of discussing topics of serious import like the student loan crisis, fentanyl abuse, and mental health. In one of his most influential episodes, following the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Minhaj casually reprimanded the Saudi government with incredible wit: “This is the most unbelievable cover story since Blake Shelton won Sexiest Man Alive,” Minhaj joked to his audience. His jab at the Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman eventually earned backlash from the Saudi government. They asked Netflix to remove the episode from the country’s Netflix queue a few weeks later.
But even before the episode was taken down, millions worldwide saw and heard the influential comedian speaking out. The masses agreed with Minhaj, arguing that the Saudi government had no right to not only make up a horrible excuse for the death of the journalist but to take down an episode of protest.
Whether it be teens, young adults, or even–yes–older desi dads who don’t approve of their children watching Netflix, Hasan Minhaj has won the hearts of almost everyone he speaks to. Akhila Swarna, a freshman at Marquette High School in Missouri, calls Minhaj a “great example of a person who uses their fame to promote justice.” By not only chastising the Saudi government, but speaking out about protests in Sudan, the loss of the Amazon rainforests, and even corruption in cricket, the eccentric Patriot Act show host uses humor to carry a powerful message forth for those who are often kept silent.