Hasan Minhaj, the Daily Show correspondent, and one of last year's Just For Laughs New Voices, told three compelling 20-minute stories during his set in the intimate Salle Claude Leveille. His show, called Homecoming King, clearly belongs to the "slow storytelling" school of comedy. Think Mike Birbiglia, the late Mike DeStefano, or other comedians who have performed on The Moth Radio Hour (of which Minhaj is one). Stories with an emphasis on sincerity and emotional resonance, without falling into easy sentimentality.
So while his set was by no means a laugh a minute, that really wasn't the goal. Nevertheless, Minhaj left no doubts about his abilities as a stand-up. He got huge laughs for jokes about the limited candy bar options in India, why birthdays suck for immigrant kids, and junior high bullies who read The Secret. Referring to his recent wedding, he joked about how when white people go to ethnic weddings they act like they're high on ecstasy.
These comedic bits were woven into a highly-polished and moving show about family ties, growing up as a first-generation immigrant, interracial love, and trying to live the American dream.
In the first story of the night, Minhaj related how he grew up with his tough father in California while his mother completed her schooling back home in India. Minhaj eloquently described his boyhood longing for his mother, and how it instantly turned to rage when she arrived with a younger sister that his parents never told him about. "Immigrant parents love keeping secrets," Minhaj laughed. "Talking with my dad is like watching an M. Night Shyamalan movie."
The second story focussed on Minhaj's childhood best friend Chris. Minhaj's take on the torture of junior high was perfectly rendered, from playing video games in the library while eating mountains of snacks on lunch break, to the heartache and embarrassment of being bullied.
He ended with a story about his high school crush, heartbreak on prom night due to her parents' racism, a small gleeful revenge years later, and — after a short interruption for a Pizza Hut commercial — reconciliation and forgiveness. "I'm the cure for racism!" was his final line of the night, receiving a huge laugh and ovation from the audience.
Minhaj has been working up this material at the Sundance New Frontier Storytelling Lab, with plans for a feature film about what he calls "the new brown experience," of immigrant kids in America. Minhaj is a captivating storyteller, and these are important stories.