Director: Christopher Storer | Runtime: 1h 12mins | Comedy
Hasan Minhaj’s first stand up special came courtesy of Netflix, mostly chronicling the immigrant experience of his parents and how it effected his childhood, Homecoming King also takes a dive into how his senior Prom night somehow lead to being a correspondent on The Daily Show.
Netflix has created a enormous back catalogue of content since becoming a production company of their own, not least in their stand up comedy specials, unsuprisingly paying Jerry Seinfeld the most of his original material for the streaming service ($100m between his two specials and continuation of his show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee). One of the highlights of this venture by Netflix is giving a platform to those who’ve yet to show their chops on a mainstream stand-up stage – 2017’s Homecoming King was Hasan Minhaj’s debut of one of these originals, giving the comedian a chance to create a show entirely unique to him whilst being relatable to other US immigrants.
Stand-up specials can sometimes seem restrictive in their storytelling capabilities; the need to be funny outweighs the need to tell a engaging story, entire subgenres dedicated to the mundaneness being entertaining (see the aforementioned Jerry Seinfeld), though this has become a trope in itself – the ‘did you notice this?’ has become a cliché of observational comedy and feels stale compared to it’s inception and rise in the 90’s. This is where Minhaj and similar comedians (Aziz Ansari, Kumail Nanjiani and Hari Kondabolu are other great examples) can breathe a breath of fresh air, not just as a means to create content that others can relate to but opening a new perspective for the mainstream.
Homecoming King starts with exploring Minhaj’s early upbringing, the complex relationship he had with his parents; their arranged marriage being a positive force for them (something the US has a much more jaded opinion on), his mother spending the first 8 years back in India as she finishes medical school and how Minhaj and his father spent this time just the two of them. Though much of the show is spent exploring identity it’s the early days of his childhood that become the most interesting, delving into the generational gap between his immigrant parents and being a immigrant child spending their entire life without knowing their home country.
The massive screens behind Minhaj throughout act as an interesting backdrop giving the performance many aesthetic layers, but is also used to visualise aspects of the story he’s telling.
As you might expect is a layer constantly touched upon of the racism Minhaj and his family had to endure – the section about 9/11 is particularly heart wrenching, but he balances this with comedy extremely delicately. He gives us insight into an Indian Muslim’s perspective of a very sensitive topic, and the racially motivated hatred that came after, but it’s still funny – it’s likely you’ll be in a strange mix of laughing with tears of sadness and anger. The quality of the storytelling comes from Homecoming King originally being an off-broadway play Minhaj performed in 2015, another aspect leading to it’s uniqueness as a stand-up special, but potentially the best element outside of this is how the show is presented. The stage isn’t flat, not just in the actual levels Minhaj climbs up, but the lighting too. The massive screens behind Minhaj throughout act as an interesting backdrop giving the performance many aesthetic layers, but is also used to visualise aspects of the story he’s telling – text conversations, maps of his small Indian hometown, animations and many others make Homecoming King a great show to watch and not just listen to.
There is a certain level of hardship and tragedy throughout, but is far from melodramatic. Hasan Minhaj clearly spent a considerable amount of time perfecting his debut stand-up special, and though he’s had a very successful career since – reaching The Daily Show being the end of his story, but since then having his own excellent show The Patriot Act – Homecoming King will likely be his magnum opus for some time, equal parts hilarious and cultural adversity, Minhaj creates a love letter to the country he grew up in and loves, but also the parents that made it happen for him.