Hasan Minhaj’s Homecoming King: An Intimate Portrayal of the Immigrant Experience
Hasan Minhaj comes to us with his very first comedy special entitled Homecoming King, and he has brought with him the presence of a seasoned storyteller. You may know him from his work as a fake journalist at The Daily Show, or most recently his fiery monologue at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. President Trump decided he wasn’t going to attend because of the “fake news” media. Who needs them, right? That left Hasan Minhaj with the once-prestigious job that nobody wanted, and like every immigrant knows, he took that job and he owned it.
Homecoming King released May 23, 2017 on Netflix worldwide and it isn’t your run-of-the-mill comedy special. There isn’t a desperation to make the audience laugh, nor is there an attempt to dilute the content to appeal to a wider audience. One of Minhaj’s great strengths is his ability to gain the trust of his audience very early in the show by accepting his vulnerabilities, “I’m a dick,” he says when he realises how he has treated his younger sister Ayesha with unwarranted disdain, to appease a bunch of “Ryan Lochte’s” at his school.
The work of director Christopher Storer and art director Sam Spratt align perfectly to express the vital emotional beats of the show through colourful visuals, focused lighting and the use of the close-up camera shot. The innocence in Minhaj’s eyes when he feels he has wronged or has been wronged really highlights the emotional journey that he is taking himself on telling us his story.
Minhaj uses visual cues displayed behind him on stage to illustrate his perspective, and it works well. At one point he talks about how his father married his mother without ever laying eyes on her, describing it as “Tinder with no photos,” and a desolate Tinder profile that only displays name and age; which if he did on the real Tinder app he’d probably have married a spam bot.
Minhaj exudes confidence and a lived experience as he occupies the stage through bad decisions and difficult memories. He never loses his audience. His authenticity defines his comedy.
He presents his options in life, living in an immigrant family, like a game of cards. He argues that “there’s a finite number of hands you can play with them over the course of your life,” and as a visionary six year old he wanted to save his hands for the important moments and despite his hurt at that moment, he accepted his dad’s less-than-stellar birthday present to him; letting him choose the door handle for the bathroom. Minhaj’s metaphor for life is all cashed in by the time he reaches the age of marriage. It is a beautiful sibling bonding moment when his sister Ayesha plays one of her cards to finalise his marriage in the doubtful mind of Minhaj’s parents. This also brought their largely one-sided rivalry to a close.
For me, one of the most powerful moments in the show is when his father says “Log Kya Kahenge?” or “What Will People Think?” in relation to him marrying a Hindu girl, as a Muslim boy. This phrase, in its deep cultural value, yet practical emptiness has ruined millions of young dreams in the subcontinent and Minhaj has had enough, “F*ck Naila Aunty.” Minhaj does very well to incorporate Hindi and Urdu into his storytelling. It translates easily, yet has further emotional weight and significance for the brown kids going through similar struggles.
The stand out part of the show is most certainly the epic tale of Bethany Reed. It is full of twists and turns that highlight the influence of parental values over their children’s lives and how the generational gap inhibits progress.
From pop culture references to Urdu poetry, from Post 9/11 to his prom nightmare, Minhaj truly encompasses the trials and tribulations of the minority experience, and though some stories speak to all of us, they are intimately linked to his real life.
If you haven’t seen Homecoming King yet; Log Kya Kahenge?
Homecoming King is available to stream on Netflix right now.