Hasan Minhaj's Netflix stand-up special "Homecoming King" is the powerful immigration narrative we need right now
“I totally understood that wall,” quips comedian and The Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj during his new Netflix stand-up special. “I was like a little Republican,” he says, continuing his hysterical monologue about meeting the little sister he never knew he had. “I remember leveling with my parents at the dinner table. I was like, ‘Look — mom, dad. Let’s be real. These brown people. Coming into our house. Eating our Fruit Roll-Ups. I say we tell them to go back where they came from.’”
Referencing the Maury equivalent of sibling reveals, this anecdote about Hasan’s dad impregnating his mom during one of his many back-and-forth trips from the U.S. to India (where she was completing medical school) was one of many stories of his upbringing as son of immigrants in a mostly white Davis, Calif. His retellings — evoking booming laughter and other times, despondent awe — were beautifully woven into his May 23rd special — titled Homecoming King. The special is filled with frequent, brilliant inclusion of his native Hindi tongue and a visual background screen that dimmed during the more serious discourse.
A linear timeline narrative that concludes with landing his Daily Show job immediately after a meeting with Jon Stewart, the special also outlined heavy, terrifying moments that often follow people of color — ones that force us to confront uncomfortable truths that persist today. Below are the most powerful moments from the special.
A post-9/11 “Zen” reaction.
Shortly after telling his son not to mention his Muslim roots and to avoid being political, Hasan’s dad answers their ringing home phone on September 12th, 2001. “Where’s Osama?” is among the many things he hears on the other line, followed by a nauseating string of racial slurs and death threats. This person recited their address. He knew where they lived. Immediately after the dial tone clicks, there’s a smash outside — the windows of their Camry. They both go outside and Hasan is furious.
His retelling is almost poetic: After running down the street looking for the perpetrators, he looks back to find his dad sweeping up the pieces of the shattered glass in what he describes as a “Zen” reaction.
The American Dream tax.
“You’re going to endure racism just because you’re here,” is what Hasan dubs the American Dream tax. “As immigrants, we always have to put out these press releases to prove our patriotism.” His analogies perfectly describe a post-racial America, even briefly drawing on the Black Lives Matter movement (“Why does the collateral damage have to be death?”). More so than that, these remarks force us to confront the ugly truths that still exist for this community, to this day.
How many times have our peripherals grasped blurry visuals on our TV screens of ignorance-driven hatred, whether through countless acts of vandalism, massacres at Sikh temples, mosque fires in the aftermath of the San Bernardino terror attack, and now, Manchester? When will the demonization end?
“We don’t think it’d be a good fit.”
Following his dad’s prom disapproval, Hasan climbs out his bedroom window in his JCPenney tux and secretly bikes to the house of Bethany Reed, his high school friend who had moved from Nebraska to Davis — a girl with whom he shared his first kiss, and the first person he coins to have accepted him for all he was in his immigrant-household glory after many study sessions at his house. Her mother answers the door with a sympathetic face, as another student puts a corsage on Bethany’s wrist behind her. “Oh. Did Bethany not tell you?”
Because they have many relatives back home in Nebraska, and because they would be taking lots of pictures, her mother didn’t think the pairing would be “a good fit.” He bikes back home. He continues his monologue,
He tells this story to his dad years later in the hospital after his heart attack scare; and to his surprise, his dad is upset that he never forgave Bethany — highlighting a culture where everyone’s scared of one another. “You have to be brave. Hasan, be brave,” his dad tells him.
Homecoming King is currently streaming on Netflix.