In case you ever wanted to watch a Hasan Minhaj rally in an auditorium at the Kennedy Center, you missed your chance.
Minhaj’s ongoing national, almost six-month-long comedy tour, “The King’s Jester,” comes after the success of his popular Netflix show, “Patriot Act,” which he promoted via a comedy show at GW three years ago. Before that, he was known for the comedy special that launched him into becoming a household name, especially in South Asian-American households, “Homecoming King.”
Unfortunately, “The King’s Jester” strayed far from the quality of his previous work.
In both “Patriot Act” and “Homecoming King,” Minhaj thrived off of using his personal experiences to discuss larger issues facing the country. The quality of both of these shows, though conceptually different, relied on a compelling thesis that grounded each joke in a message larger than the bit itself.
But there was no such thesis in “The King’s Jester,” which led to a muddled, self-centered show that relied more on Minhaj’s newfound fame rather than an ability to say something true. The atmosphere in the Kennedy Center that night felt much more like a rally for a political candidate than a comedy show. Over the course of the two-ish hours of the show, Minhaj tried to tackle too many topics but didn’t adequately develop any of his punchlines. Instead, his jokes came off as a shallow front to complain about personal issues and bloat his new fame.
Each episode of “Patriot Act” was insightful, particularly because Minhaj chose to tackle topics that were not extensively covered in daily newspapers, while also being comedic. It was clear to see that the comedian was using his own experiences to inform his interest in these heavy topics, while still allowing his personality and humor to shine through.
Similarly, in “Homecoming King,” Minhaj talked about his experiences attending school as a South Asian in a mostly white community, growing up with immigrant parents and being Muslim in a post-9/11 world.
In his current comedy tour, Minhaj tries to move farther away from these topics, broaching parenthood, his marriage and his newfound prominence in the comedy world. It’s exciting to see any artist grow, especially if they are bold enough to address their willingness to wade new territory in both their life and work. But Minhaj doesn’t adequately address this tonal shift from his previous works in the “Jester” routine.
Minhaj’s comedic magic lies in his ability to tell a story that seems fabricated and bring it to life by illuminating a screen behind him that completely validates every aspect of the story. Without giving the story away, he does a similar bit in “Jester” about his experience being targeted by an undercover government agent in his teens, and it’s the most compelling part of the show.
But his charm falters when the anecdotal stories he tells sound like fabrications meant only for the purpose of empty laughs and ego boosts. For instance, he told several stories that tried to set himself up as a “hero dad,” by widening his eyes and saying lines like “…but I can’t do that now. I’m a dad,” and pauses for reactions. It lacked connection to his routine and seemed like an attempt to elicit some ‘aws’ from the women in the room.
There are still some through lines from “Homecoming King” and “Patriot Act” to “The King’s Jester,” and the most apparent one is the jokes about first-generation Indian immigrants. Much of Minhaj’s old comedy relied on critiquing that generation’s parenting style. Strict rules, harsh academic and career expectations for their children and their love for Princess Diana. Because Minhaj was still young at the time of these older routines, still in his late twenties or early thirties, these topics seemed to be more about Minhaj processing his upbringing and expressing this process through his comedy.
But now, in the sophomore stage of his career, and according to his extensive stories about his young family, these critiques and jokes are less potent. Instead of acknowledging the appreciation for his parents’ lives like he did throughout “Homecoming King,” the parental content in “The King’s Jester” came off as a way to pull some of the old punches out just for the sake of relatability and shallow connection with South Asian audiences.
For anyone expecting content on par with his usual substantive comedy, Minhaj’s “The King’s Jester,” will likely disappoint. But Hasan Minhaj fans who like Hasan Minhaj for the sake of Hasan Minhaj, will have a blast.