Hasan Minhaj Royal Theatre, Toronto ON, September 24
Published Sep 25, 2016Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj — perhaps best known in Canada for his recent satirical interview with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau regarding Syrian refugees — performed an hour of standup, dubbed Homecoming King, as part of JFL42. His set was poignant, brutally honest and engagingly relevant.
Minhaj began with the sort of crowd riffing that Canadians have come to expect from American comics with a political side — in this case, Minhaj's promise to move to Toronto should Donald Trump win the upcoming election. His first ten minutes were largely of an interactive and somewhat improvisational nature and while it seemed to work out for him, it was a little predictable for a comedian often lauded for his intelligence.
Minhaj's set revolved primarily around his vibrantly personal stories about growing up in America in a first generation Indian-American family. The first half of his set was a light, somewhat nostalgic recounting of his early childhood upbringing. Despite describing what sounded like a rather strict upbringing in some respects, it was a very light-hearted start, feeling a little more like traditional standup than the material in the latter half. The jokes were many and most were funny, but they didn't have much weight behind them.
His set gained steam and a sense of gravity in the second half. Growing up as a visible minority in the United States before and after the 9/11 attacks makes for very different experiences. Minhaj explored his experience as an Indian-American youth during the Bush/Cheney years with the incisiveness of a brilliant storyteller and thinker. He was measured, balanced and razor-sharp in his dissection of racism through experience.
It was certainly engaging, but his set changed almost irreversibly from an hour of standup comedy into what at times resembled a Ted Talk. He had some very funny moments, but those moments became less the focus of his set so much as a vehicle for dialogue through storytelling.
Overall, Minhaj's set was more memorable than it was funny. There were times where the comedian seemed to lose the sort of energy and focus needed to keep an audience engaged for a full hour. His statements on race, immigration and family — as powerful as some of them were — seemed an aside from his actual comedy. His set might have been something spectacular had he been able to combine the two more seamlessly.