Hasan Minhaj, one of the latest breakout comedians, thanks to his role as a Senior Correspondent on the Daily Show, came to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on April 2nd for an exclusive students-only performance, hosted by the Illini Union Board (IUB). Students were lined up winding around the Student Union building beginning as early as 2 p.m., patiently waiting in line for the 7 p.m. show time. The event drew quite a crowd, quickly reaching capacity at 1000 students and sending many disappointed fans away. Though the number of students turned away isn’t known, the Facebook event reaching 1000 attendees and 1600 people interested is some indication.
The Union drew a crowd maxing out at 1000 attendees for Hasan Minhaj's April 2nd performance.
Minhaj is best known for his fresh voice in comedy in the current political climate, covering timely stories on Comedy Central’s Daily Show from prison reform in Alabama to systematic prejudice against Muslims. He is very open about his own life as a child of Muslim Indian immigrants in the United States facing racism and skepticism, often providing as much awareness on these issues as he does comic relief in his sketches. Moreover, he delivered the 2017 White House Correspondents’ Dinner showing his brilliant comedic range, taking digs at Steve Bannon and USA Today.
As expected, the lucky 1000 UIUC students who were able to make it into the Union’s conference room for this free performance did not leave disappointed. Minhaj’s hour-long monologue tested out material from his upcoming weekly Netflix show and included a Q&A session at the end. Upon the audience quieting down after Minhaj’s entrance on stage, Minhaj broke the ice by playfully mocking the Illini Union's I-rooms. After being told of the impressively large stadium at the UIUC campus, the venue he ends up in has him wondering if he is performing at a middle school dance or a wedding.
What followed were mostly jokes about the current political climate, playing newsreel clips in between comic stories and sincere concern for the U.S.’s current backward state as a nation that is on its third travel ban and fostering broken views on immigration and refugees – hypocritically in a country of immigrants. Students from Chicago suburb Schaumburg got a special shout-out during a story about Minhaj’s experience seeing Tom Hanks’ Captain Phillips movie in a Schaumburg theater. He mocked the movie-goers’ dramatic reaction to the defeat of Somali pirates, laughing at the fearful notion that here in landlocked Illinois, we too could be attacked by pirates. The delivery style was similar to his Netflix stand-up special Homecoming King, though covering different issues and current news stories. Videos, photos, and recordings weren’t permitted to keep the content protected before the release of his upcoming Netflix show.
The host of the Q&A session was IUB’s event coordinator, who read through questions written by the audience before the event. Minhaj told never-before-heard jokes he had held on reserve during the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, in the case that Ben Carson had shown up. When an aspiring comedian asked for advice on being a minority in the comic world, Minhaj gave one sincere directive: be yourself, be who you are and a lot of people will want to hear your voice.
If the excellent turnout for Minhaj’s exclusive performance at UIUC is any indication of his current and future success, I think it’s safe to say that America is ready for Minhaj’s quoted "New Brown America," and we desperately want and need to hear his unique, hilarious voice.
Top photo taken from the from The New Yorker article found here. Middle photo taken by the author before the event.