It’s hard to stand out in the sea of political satire vying to be the successor of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” most of which are hosted by those who worked with the great man himself. While John Oliver, Samantha Bee and Trevor Noah have each been able to add their own unique spins to the familiar format, former “Daily Show” correspondent and standup comedian Hasan Minhaj seems to have most successfully stuck the landing.
Each of “Patriot Act”’s roughly 25-minute episodes centers around a singular, specific topic, such as affirmative action and the West’s relationship with Saudi Arabia in episodes one and two, respectively. There are no skits or interviews, just Minhaj earnestly trying to persuade the audience to care about the central issue. He does away with the sit-down desk format entirely, preferring to stand and walk around the modern, hi-tech set in a style that he amusingly referred to as a “woke TED Talk.”
Thankfully, “Patriot Act” is far less self-congratulatory and pseudo-scientific than the average TED Talk, but rather it is equal parts sharp and hilarious. Minhaj oozes charisma and energy throughout and avoids some of the smugness that many who host similar shows unknowingly display. Viewers of his standup comedy specials like “Homecoming King” will recognize his creative use of visuals in a way that complements his set-up extremely well. While the show moves at a very rapid pace, Minhaj is careful not to make it feel overwhelming, but also avoids the use of cheap gimmicks to fill time in between segments.
Another aspect of Minhaj’s presentation that sets him apart is the fact that he unashamedly wears his identity on his sleeve. He does not shy away from making niche cultural references and emphasizing his immigrant, Muslim background. Moreover, he uses his experiences from being a part of these communities to analyze issues through a lens that is different from the familiar white male worldview. For example, he notes in episode two that, due to its influence in the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia’s actions not only impact its own people, but rather Muslims such as himself and his family around the world. He explains how disbanding affirmative action policies is ultimately self-defeating for Asian-Americans, without completely letting schools such as Harvard off the hook. At the same time, he makes hilarious jokes about how every Indian dad has a version of the “I came to America with 10 dollars” line. All of these little moments make “Patriot Act” refreshingly unique in its sphere.
Laughing at and sharing laughs at references to my hometown of Fremont, Cali., with my family made me realize how rare such moments are on mainstream American television, and I sincerely hope that others continue to try to explain the world through their minority lenses, be it through gender, race, religion or any combination thereof.