Hasan Minhaj Talks ‘Patriot Act’ & The Hope for Brown Girl Voices in Entertainment

Brown Boy Sahil Badruddin interviews Hasan Minhaj – American comedian and actor and host of the upcoming Netflix series, “Patriot Act.” Hasan Minhaj had been a senior correspondent on The Daily Show, which he joined in 2014. He was also the featured speaker at the 2017 White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

Hasan Minhaj spoke about his journey so far as a comedian, his personal advice to all artists, current challenges in America, and the future of entertainment and comedy.

Below are just a few of our highlights from the interview. Take a listen to the full interview in the YouTube link above!

[Photo Courtesy of Sahil Badruddin]

Besides skill, what do you feel are some of the biggest challenges new and upcoming comedians or artists face currently in America?

Hasan Minhaj: I think it’s two things. I would say that the number one pressure is, especially for artists that grow up in communities like ours, there’s this huge pressure of how do you define success in a career where there are really no guarantees?

Look, everything in life especially in the workforce is subjective, but especially art. Art is one of the most subjective things. Finding a career in show business is also incredibly subjective. How do you define success by that? Sometimes people don’t know how to define it for themselves. Sometimes they’re defining it the way other people define it. I think that’s a lot of pressure and something I struggled with when I was a younger artist; what is making it mean.

The second thing is, while you’re dealing with the struggle, grind and climb, how do you stay true to your own voice? How do you find your voice and cultivate that? There’s a little bit of like you have to immerse yourself in a community but you also have to really get things to really be quiet and really think about, “What do I want to sing? What do I want to share with the world?”

Especially when you’re coming up you really want to be like your role models. You really try to emulate them. As you continue to evolve and grow, you start to realize, “Look, there’s only one me. I really have to refine and hone and find my own unique voice.”

[Photo Credit: Eric Hobbs]

I’m going to ask something a little more personal. As you hustled your way through this, there were times, I know you spoke about publicly, where you said your parents and your peers didn’t always support you until you made it, right?

Hasan Minhaj: Right.

What advice would you give for a guy who’s hustling, who’s struggling? But you know there are certain hurdles in certain cultures, for example, there’s less appreciation for arts or music or comedy as careers. As you said, there’s no tangible metric, right? Even advice on how to have that conversation with parents and peers.

Hasan Minhaj: Look, there does come a point I think for every artist where you just have to burn the boats. It really is, it does come down to where you just have to rip the bandage off. I remember that happened when my LSAT score expired. I had to have just like a really rough conversation with my parents. That was a real thing I had to go through.

My parents, their concern was just like, “It’s not that we don’t think that—

They care about you.

Hasan Minhaj: — you doing comedy is a bad thing.” No, we think you’re very capable. We think that we just want everything to be okay. We want your life to be okay. We don’t want you to struggle. We don’t want you to live on an air mattress and all that stuff.”

I think I came to a really important conclusion for myself; I can only do things that I’m all in for. I just really loved comedy that much. Honestly, I had no problem sleeping on an air mattress and just having my yellow notepad and having my show that night.

[Photo Credit: Eric Hobbs]

As long as you did what you loved?

Hasan Minhaj: Yeah. For me, I really realized making it was just… There was a moment where look, there was gas in my car, I was able to go to Chipotle and get a burrito with avocado. I could afford the extra $1.45 to have guac. I had health care and I was doing what I loved. I’m like, “This is it. This is making it. This moment where I’m at, if it increases any more, that’s great, but this is making it.” I’m paying rent and doing what I love.

You’ve mentioned that in the next 15 years of entertainment we’ll include more female voices, especially—

Hasan Minhaj: Oh, 100%.

Brown and even Muslim female—

Hasan Minhaj: And I cannot wait to see. That’s going to be really cool.

How do we help create that better environment to see that? Is it already happening or—?

Hasan Minhaj: Yes. I think the biggest thing that new voices, and especially voices from diverse, different communities that we haven’t heard from, whether it’s women of color or people from the LGBTQ community. I think the biggest thing that they need, we all need, is just space. They need to be included in the bills on comedy shows or in the writer’s room and having inclusion that way gives them an opportunity to shine.

My biggest thing as a dude is to just get out of the way and let them share their stories and be great. That’s one of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned and to do everything that I can to make space, listen, and contribute.

Going back, there’s a tendency, especially when performing comedy, to use self-deprecating humor. For example, for South Asians, people use Indian accents, the “Apu Syndrome”, right?

Hasan Minhaj: Yeah.

How do we go beyond that?

Hasan Minhaj: To me, it’s “Are you laughing at me or with me?” A common trope in all forms of comedy is high-class, low-class. You have the protagonist in the joke, and something is happening to the protagonist. Some outside external factor, outside of the race, is happening to them. Or maybe, because of the race, but there is something that is happening to them where they are the victim of circumstances. We’ve all felt that. You’re walking on the road, all of a sudden, bird poop lands on your shoulder. We’ve felt those moments before, right?

Right.

Hasan Minhaj: Or you feel like you’re walking into a door, and it’s not a door, and it’s just a window, and your face-plant. Why are those things funny? I think it’s because people find it funny that, “Hey, like you were embarrassed” because I think we’ve all felt that way before. My thing is that I want to tap into the human condition, and I’m totally okay with self-deprecating humor as long as it’s tapped into that and it’s not linked to just something where you’re going to just laugh at a stereotype.

But I feel like some of these racial and ethnic stereotypes sometimes amplify rather than–

Hasan Minhaj: Do you think it’s getting worse?

No, I think it’s been the same.

Hasan Minhaj: Oh, really? Like it’s stayed the same since even the ’90s? They’re still–

I think it may be getting a little bit better because people are recognizing it more. I mean, the “Apu Syndrome,” there was a whole—I think I’m sure you saw—

Hasan Minhaj: The documentary? Yes.

Yes. I think there’s been more recognition of it, but you’re saying… Are you using it in the positive sense versus the…?

Hasan Minhaj: Yeah, like how do I just happen to the everyday human condition that everyone knows and feels. Those common emotions of pain, love, loss, anxiety, fear, embarrassment, those are the things we all feel.

I believe there are young people in the South Asian and Muslim community who look up to you as a role model. What kind of responsibility now do you feel compared to many years ago of defining yourself as part of an identity? Do you feel responsibility? Do you feel like you can give lessons to that as people do look up to you?

Hasan Minhaj: I definitely feel super-humbled that people would consider me to be somebody that they would look up to and admire and all that stuff. It’s definitely a lot of pressure, and there’s definitely feelings of “Hey, you can’t mess up because people are watching, people are looking at you, and people maybe turn to you.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bn9JJVOAxOY/?hl=en&taken-by=hasanminhaj

Finally, you’ve been doing this North American tour, and you have your Netflix series coming up, “Patriot Act.” Five years ago or six years ago, did you imagine you’d be doing this?

Hasan Minhaj: Wow. No, I didn’t imagine that I would be here, but I remember about five or six years ago, I just became – that’s what, 2013? I was doing videos called The Truth with Hasan Minhaj, and I was part of the sketch group called Goatface, and I was doing stand-up and starting to get involved in the storytelling community through the Moth storytelling hour. I was just looking at the next monkey bar ahead of me. That’s all I was doing, was making the best possible stuff that I could.

Is it different now?

Hasan Minhaj: Yeah. You got to see the monkey bar tonight, and it’s refining that and finessing that, and it’s getting ready for our final show of the tour, which is October 18th at Carnegie Hall, and then October 28th the series drops.

[Read Related: ‘Queer Lady Magician’ Creatrix Tiara on South Asian LGBTQ Representation in Magic and Media

Hasan Minhaj‘s new Netflix series “Patriot Act” premieres October 28th. His tour, “Before The Storm,” hits Toronto on October 7th, and will end on October 18th in New York City.

By Sahil Badruddin

Sahil Badruddin is a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin and majored in Chemical Engineering, Religious Studies, and … Read more ›

Anya Banerjee: The New Face of NBC’s ‘The Blacklist’

Anya Banerjee
Anya Banerjee

Born in the US and raised in New Zealand, actor Anya Banerjee made her television debut, this past Sunday, in season 10 of NBC’sThe Blacklist.” She is seen playing the character of Siya Malik, daughter of former task force member Meera Malik who met with an untimely death in season one.

[Read Related: Sri Rao and the Future of South Asian Diasporic Cinema]

An MI6 agent, Malik is hoping to learn more about her mother and the work she did with Raymond Reddington. Her character is a sharp, inventive, fearless spy with a knack for spotting what motivates others. Even though this is her first-ever television role, one can see how deeply involved Banerjee is in the character, pushing you to connect back the dots to the history her character comes with. In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Banerjee talks more about her journey into acting, what drew her to the role of Siya and what should the audience expect from the 10th and final season of the show:

People, in general, are very influenced by the content they consume. Was there a specific film, play, or television series that got you interested in acting?

As the first in my family to be raised in “the West,” just being in the world involved performing some kind of identity. Film and TV acted as a third parent in that regard. I’m the first actor in my family, but have wanted to do this since before I can remember. Watching “Bend It Like Beckham” when I was in primary school showed me there was a place for South Asian female leads in Hollywood. I’ve also always been drawn to media with some element of the fantastical. I loved Baz Lurhmann’s “Moulin Rouge” because it brought the theatricality of the stage to the screen in a spectacular way. I remember being tickled by the cultural fusion in the film. It reflected my own sense of being at the intersection of various cultures and the appeal of escaping into a made-up world.

Were you a part of any productions in school or in college that influenced you?

I did a lot of singing and dancing as a kid; Indian dance-dramas at Durga Puja and yearly ballet recitals. We did musicals and Shakespeare productions at secondary school and that’s also when I started working in Auckland’s professional theatre scene.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Anya Banerjee (@anyabanerjee)

What were some of your favorite roles while pursuing the acting program at Columbia University and how did they prepare you for your television debut?

Casting director James Calleri headed the acting MFA program at Columbia when I was there and his on-camera classes really set us up for success in TV. We also had the tremendous good fortune of being Ron Van Lieu’s first cohort at Columbia. The master acting teacher directed our thesis production of “Where Do We Live?” by Christopher Shinn. I played Lily, a British party girl who has to be physically and emotionally vulnerable in the play. With the help of movement coach Sita Mani and intimacy co-ordinator Alicia Rodis, I gained the confidence to take more risks in my acting. Now I’m playing a very different Brit with a totally different background and disposition but I’m using many of  the same tools I used as Lily to feel grounded as Siya.

How would you describe “The Blacklist” to people wanting to learn more about the show?

Action-packed, full of intrigue, and endlessly entertaining. There’s a reason this show has been killing it for a decade and that’s the high caliber of the cast and crew, as well as the inventive and topical writing that keeps fans coming back for more. Audience members who’ve watched from the beginning will appreciate the full circle moments that my character ushers in — I play the daughter of Meera Malik, late CIA agent from season one so my storyline is a bit of a throwback. But new viewers can use me as an access point into the world of “The Blacklist” as Siya uncovers it, bit by bit, as a newcomer herself.

How did you prepare for the role of Siya Malik and how similar are you in real life to the character you’re playing on screen?

Some of the first things I had to learn on the job were stunts and how to operate a firearm. You’ll be seeing a lot of Siya kicking butt. The gun stuff was entirely new for me but I took to it very quickly and my background as a dancer helped with the fight scenes. Something I identify with in Siya is her resilience. She’s turned the tragedy of her mother’s death into the fuel that led to her own career as an MI6 agent, overcoming obstacles and others’ underestimation of her. That’s the kind of fire inside that  I really admire and hope to practice in my own life.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Anya Banerjee (@anyabanerjee)

Are there certain roles you feel suit you better?

I love characters with complex inner worlds — ones who are deeply flawed and may even be outcast from society, but who rise above the odds to carve out space for themselves and the ones they love.

Do you feel South Asians are still pigeonholed into certain roles or has it gotten better?

I think things are a lot better than what I grew up seeing in the early 2000s. “Sound of Metal,” for example, is one of my favorite movies because Riz Ahmed’s riveting performance has little to do with him being South Asian and everything to do with his commitment to an expertly crafted role.

Is there a dream role you would want to play?

On stage, someone as volatile as Emma from Duncan Macmillian’s “People Places & Things.” On screen, someone as funny as Amina in “We Are Lady Parts” or as brave as the title character in “Kimi.”

You have worked with many talented individuals. Is there anyone still on your list you would want to work with in terms of directors, actors, actresses, and others?

Parminder Nagra, obviously! As a Kiwi, it would be a dream come true to work with Jane Campion or Taika Waititi. I’m most excited to form meaningful relationships with artists daring enough to challenge the status quo.

You describe yourself as a “Kiwi-Bengali in the Big City.” How have you felt as an Indian American, raised in New Zealand, coming into the acting world?

There’s been a lot of juggling aspects of my triangular identity. A lot of the times in this industry people want you to be just one thing, or maybe two, but three’s pushing it! The reality is that we live in a globalized world. We have to make room for cultural nuance in the media. So maybe I’ll lean into my American side today, turn up the Kiwi tomorrow, and speak Bengali with my Indian parents on the phone. All are valid, authentic expressions of myself and reflections of the real world.

[Read Related: Manish Dayal on ‘The Resident’ & Telling Stories During and About a Pandemic]

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Anya Banerjee (@anyabanerjee)

What advice would you give to your younger self?

It’s okay to be a chameleon — in fact it’s a gift. Adapting aspects of your personality and identity to different circumstances is part of being a multicultural artist.

What is something not many people know about you?

I can be a little introverted and have struggled with social anxiety since I was a teenager. I had a bit of an emo phase then, but have since learned to take life less seriously and it’s made me a lot happier. My loved ones nurture and embrace the goofball in me. If you get to know me, I might let you see my inner clown!

Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview?

Take pride in your difference and embrace the outsider in you. It’s your superpower. There’s no one right way to be a Brown Girl so get out there and be whoever you want to be!

Photo Courtesy of Ted Ely

By Arun S.

Arun fell in love with music at a young age by way of his middle school music teacher Mr. D. … Read more ›

The Poetry Film Breaking Genres and National Borders

“After so Long” is a poetry film created for Simha’s EP, which is streaming on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. The poem was collaboratively written by Simha, a U.S. native, and Jae, who is based in India, during the 2020 lockdown. “After so Long” was recited by Simha and their parents. In 2022, I directed and produced the film through my studio, Star Hopper. “After so Long” premiered on Nowness Asia in March 2022.

This film is a worldwide collaboration among trans and queer south-Asian artists from the United States, India and Canada. It was recorded, shot and filmed during the lockdown of 2020 and 2021.

[Read Related: Poetry That Reflects the Fire Inside]

[Read Related: A Bengali Muslim Boy’s Poetic Journey Through Himself]

After So Long (English Translation)

Jae:
Awake at 10 am but out of bed at noon,
I want to be here where I lose myself in these sheets
Glancing through half-shut eyes
At the gold pressing past my window
The glimmer remarks on the ledge of my bed
But the voices are so loud
Like dust collecting in the corner of my room
I am unaware to why I’m still here
With the chilling doubt of the breeze…
I’m swept into lucidity After so long

Dad:
Mil rahi hoon mein aaj iske saang barso baad,
(Today, I’ll be meeting them after so long)
Koi paata nahi diya tune
(But with no destination sight,)
Kya karu?
(What should I do?)
Kaha jau?
(Where should I go?)
Shayad agar mein chalne lagoon,
(Perhaps, if I keep walking)
Inn yaadon ki safar mein
(Down this road of memories)
Mujhe samajh mein ayega,
(I will find out)
Yeh rasta kahaan jayega,
(Where this road leads)
Inn aari tedhi pakadandiyon pe baarte hi jaana hai,
(Through the twists and turns of this winding roads, I must keep going on)
Mujhe mil na hain aaj uske saath,
(I wish to meet them today)
Barso baad.
(After so long)

Simha:
I feel like I’m retracing my footsteps
From these concrete stretches
To broken cement walls
Chips and cracks forge their way for new designs
I see the old abandoned buildings
That once held the warmth of bodies
Now just hold memories
Supporting the nature’s resilience
In vines and moss
After so long

Mom:
Dhoondli shishe mein jaaga leli hai
(These isty mirrors have offered refuge)
Bikhri hui laatao ne,
(To these scattered vines)
Zameen pe uchi ghaas pe
(Amidst the tall grass stretching from the ground)
Lehrati kamsan kaliyaa
(The swaying little buds)
Bheeni bheeni khushboo bikhereti
(Spreading honeysuckle scent through the air)
Phir wahi mausam,
(I lose myself in reminiscing, the same season)
Wahi dil,
(The same heart)
Baarso baad.
(After so long)
Phir bhi mein chal rahi hoon aaj
(Still, I keep carrying on today)
Khudko khudse milane ke liye
(In the pursuit of my higher self)
Inn galiyo se guzarna hain aaj
(I must pass through these streets today)
Chaalte chaale jaana hai aaj
(I must keep going on today)
Kabhi hum milenge kisi mor paar
(Someday, we’ll meet again, somewhere on this road)
barso baad
(After so long)
Kabhi hum milenge kisi mor pe
(Someday, we’ll meet again, somewhere on this road)
barso baad
(After so long)

[Read Related: How to Follow Your Heart, Even When it’s Hard]

Credits

Poem by Simha & Jae
Produced by Star Hopper Studios
Directed by Varsha Panikar
Cinematography and grading by Tanmay Chowdhary
Editing by Asawari Jagushte
Featuring Vaishakh Sudhakaran
Music Production by Simha
Hindi editing by Rama Garimella
Recited by Simha, Rama Garimella, Annaji Garimella
English Translation by Nhylar


The opinions expressed by the guest writer/blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any employee thereof. Brown Girl Magazine is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the guest writer/bloggers. This work is the opinion of the blogger. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here.
By Varsha Panikar

Varsha Panikar (they/he) is a filmmaker, writer and multi-disciplinary artist from India. They are the co-founder of Star Hopper, a … Read more ›

Anita Verma-Lallian Talks Camelback Productions and the Need for Greater South Asian Representation

Camelback Productions

Award-winning commercial real estate and land consultant in Arizona, Anita Verma-Lallian, is venturing into the world of entertainment with her newfound production house, Camelback Productions, making her the first South Asian female in the state to do so. Verma-Lallian is a woman used to paving her own way, and now she’s committed to doing it for future generations.

[Read Related: Anita Verma-Lallian Launches Arizona’s First South Asian-owned Film Production and Entertainment Company ]

Through her production company, she aims to contribute towards greater South Asian representation in mainstream media with a focus on storytelling that’s relevant to the community. In a conversation with Brown Girl Magazine, the real estate maven spoke about what inspired her to shift from investing in land to investing in creative dreams.

Tell us more about Camelback Productions and what your hopes are for the company?

The intention is to help communities that are not being represented in the media. As you know, there are a lot more streamers looking for content so that presents an interesting opportunity for people to tell stories that are otherwise not being told.

For us it’s important to tell these stories that aren’t being told, and tell them in the way that we want them to be told. With South Asians, for instance, the roles typically given are stereotypical. There are only four or five roles we are playing repeatedly. I want to show the South Asian community and culture in a different way. 

You come from a business and investor background. I am curious to know what catapulted your interest towards establishing a production company?

Good question. There were a few things that inspired my interest. I was looking to diversify the different opportunities we offered our investors. We’ve done a lot of real estate, so we were overall looking for different investment opportunities.  And then, at the time when I started exploring this, the real estate market was in this wait-and-see for many people. 

Everyone was sitting on the sidelines waiting to see what happens next. There was a slowdown at the end of 2022 which is when I started looking into this more. Film seemed like it was kind of recession-proof and not really tied to what’s happening in the economy, which I thought was refreshing and exciting.

Also, overall, I observed what was happening in the industry with there being a push to see more South Asians in the media. The timing felt right, and I think we’re moving in the right direction.

What kind of content are you looking to create?

Good stories and good quality scripts. We are looking at all types of content — movies, docu-series, comedy shows, and reality shows. We’re open to anything that has a good message. 

On a personal level, what hits home for you with this production company?

Growing up I always loved film and TV. We watched a lot of Bollywood movies because that’s what we related to and I always loved that. But I did feel there wasn’t a lot of representation of people that looked like me. Being able to change that — especially after having kids, and a daughter who wants to go into film — is important for. It’s a contribution for future generations. It’s important to me that as they grow up, they see people that look just like them.  

Is there a significance to the name Camelback?

Yes! Camelback Mountain is a very iconic mountain in Phoenix. It’s one of the most famous hikes we have here and a relatively challenging one.

The significance is being able to overcome challenges and barriers. I have a nice view of Camelback Mountain and it’s something I look at every day, when I’m stressed and overwhelmed. It has a very calming and grounding presence.

To me the mountains signify being grounded and not being able to be moved by external factors. That’s what I want this production company to be!

What would you advise people interested in entering the entertainment industry?

The best advice I would give someone is to align yourself with people that you know are experts in the industry; that have a good track record. Learn from as many people as you can. I learn as much as I can, talk to as many people as I can, and I study different things to understand what was and wasn’t successful.

Photo Credit: Claudia Johnstone

By Rasha Goel

Rasha Goel is a 2X Emmy-nominated television host/producer and international correspondent. Her talent has led to opportunities such as giving … Read more ›