At 33, Hasan Minhaj has already worked on The Daily Show, won a Peabody Award, and landed his own eponymous Netflix series, Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj. And, thanks to an episode that ended up being banned in Saudia Arabia, he’s also already caused such an international controversy that his parents have taken to begging him to “just tell embarrassing stories about [his] childhood” to his thousands upon thousands of viewers instead. Minhaj, on the other hand, couldn’t have been more pleased with the way things panned out. In fact, his crew has since formed an investigative reporting team so that they can make even more waves with season 2. (Sorry, mom and dad.) Here, the comedian talks more about controversy and his Indian-American Muslim identity—plus what he thinks about running for political office.
When was the first time you were on camera? In the eighth grade, when I gave a presentation for a history class. My mom made a home video of me, and I was explaining Mesopotamia or something on camera.
Did you feel like you were at home—like you knew exactly what you were going to do with your life? I don’t know if I was at home, or even if I was particularly good, but I knew I was gonna get extra credit. That was the main thing—I had my eyes on the prize. I still remember it. I was wearing a long-sleeved, red shirt, and my eighth grade civics teacher still uses it as an example of like, “This is what you can do if you go the extra mile.”
And now you do that all the time—you go the extra mile. Now I do that all the time. I go the extra mile on camera all the time for extra credit.
So, when did you start to feel at home? I started out doing stand-up comedy at U.C. Davis and then moved to San Francisco, which has one of the most interesting comedy scenes in the country. I got to be around some really great comedians—Ali Wong, W. Kamau Bell, Arj Barker—just as they were coming up. That combination of performers being under one roof really made me understand that in comedy, we’re all mutants. It doesn’t matter if it’s experimental or mainstream. We all have different superpowers, but all the mutants respect each other’s superpowers. Early on, I learned that humor is a way to break tension. It’s a very powerful tool.
In the beginning, was your standup political? No, it was just very desperate. Like, Please like me, please—I need to connect as quickly as possible. But the thing was, I had been doing speech and debate and forensics in high school. And I didn’t realize at the time, but those are the seeds for what you need to do as a comedian. So by time I got to college, and I started to see standup comedy for the first time, I thought to myself, “Oh, this is speech and debate, but funny.”
Do you keep things in a notebook? What’s your process? Yeah. I’ll wake up in the morning. I’ll free write. A lot of my free writing is just raw emotion and feelings, just thoughts—a lot of complicated thoughts, a lot of messy thoughts. And then, because I’ll work them out with my wife [Beena Patel], a lot of thoughts that make her say, “That’s insane. Don’t ever say that out loud.” Then I’ll transfer it over to a second document, which is digital, so now we’ve gone from the pen to now computer. The second document is more like, “Hey, here’s the structure of what I’m trying to do.” They’re almost like monkey bars—you go A, B, C to D. Then there’s a third document, once I try out those main monkey bars. That one’s called the Old Testament.
The Old Testament? That is the act. That is from the moment of, “Hello, thank you so much for coming out tonight. Thank you so much. Good night.” It’s word for word.
Do you do that for your wife, too? Do you film yourself? I do that as I get ready for a special. I have Homecoming King completely transcribed—page one to page 49.
What does your mother say when she watches you do standup? Well, my mom is more concerned about the political stuff.
Do your parents worry when your show takes on Saudi Arabia? Can you talk about the episode that was banned? Sure. We did an episode about Saudi Arabia, analyzing not only the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia, but Muslims’ relationship with Saudi Arabia around the world, and the role that American politics play in that relationship. Then the episode was banned in Saudi Arabia—they pulled it off the service. So it started this whole international discussion and debate about the United States, our foreign policy, and censorship online. Obviously, my parents were like, “Please don’t be at the center of these things. We don’t want you causing international outrage and controversy. Please just tell embarrassing stories about your childhood.” But that, to me, is the most powerful thing about comedy—when you go from reporting the news to making news and moving culture forward. It has ways to impact the world in ways we would never imagine.
How have your parents been reacting to this administration? They’re definitely aware that something is awry in the Force. My parents have always reminded me that oftentimes, stability is a luxury that we take for granted in this country. You can wake up and go to Starbucks, and go get a Jamba Juice, and know that the WiFi works and Game of Thrones is queued up. things and systems are in place, and there is no massive, seismic variation to that, that’s a blessing. My dad even tells me in Hindi, “We live in Heaven. This is Heaven. Everything is working. There is no pain or barrier of entry to these things.” I try to remember that. Those things are worth fighting for, and those things are worth remembering and being grateful for.
Your Netflix show, The Patriot Act, is so powerful because it’s both micro and macro. Is it easier for you to be autobiographical or political? Well, because of my background, and because of this moment in time, the personal and the political merged. I learned under both Jon Stewart and Trevor Noah. I got my undergrad degree for four years on The Daily Show, where you’re steeped in politics and the news. It’s your life, day in and day out—you have to live it and breathe it. One of the things I realized is how much of the news just isn’t covered, because our worldview here is so myopic—it’s all about, “How does it connect to America?” But for me, as an Indian-American Muslim, I felt this insider/outsider relationship with America. So I totally get everything that’s happening here—the presidential tweets, the gaffs from your favorite senator or Congress member. But I also see the other eight panels on the front page news of the international global conversation that never get talked about, because the news becomes the president’s tweets or a senator’s gaff.
By the way, that has nothing to do with my own work or my own work ethic—there are billions of people around the world that acknowledge those other eight panels. I just happened to be this person with this background in this moment, when a series of events have unfolded that have allowed an Indian-American Muslim kid named “Hasan Minhaj” to host a show. I just happened to be one of the first people to stand up there and say, “Hey, can we take a moment to assess our relationship with this country? Can we stop to just talk about that before we dedicate an entire show to AOC’s shoes?”
Have you always felt comfortable being autobiographical? I became more comfortable telling my own story because I realized that take and contrarianism will only take you so far. If I come in, and I go, “You know, relationships are like this,” or “I feel this way about politics,” it’s great. You have a quippy one-liner, and you get the audience to laugh. That’s fantastic. They remember you if you make them really feel something, if they feel authentically in that moment you were vulnerable, and you connected with them. Like, “Oh, man. I don’t know if what he’s saying is particularly funny, but I do know that he’s being very real right now.” It’s just a visceral feeling. I realized that was in the DNA of all of my favorite comedians.
Who are? On my Mount Rushmore, I would say my two favorite comedians are the most vulnerable: Richard Pryor and the modern savant Dave Chappelle. He is a proper modern savant.
Even now you think that? Even the new stuff? Even the new stuff. Even as messy and complicated or whatever you want to say about it, he is one of the few Jedi that is performing this craft at the highest level, period. He’s one of the few people that’s willing to risk it all still on stage, stand with his convictions, tell an entire six-minute story that’s providing historical context on his position and his feelings, and then be able to cut it with a joke.
You’re doing that, too. No, no. You can’t make that comparison. That has to be earned. I’m still a Padawan. That’s the Jedi.
Would you ever run for political office? No.
Are you sure? I’m 100 percent sure.
I mean, a comedian just won in the Ukraine. A TV personality just won in Italy. Well, we live in a time now where anything is possible. But politics are very complicated. And there are a lot of concessions that you have to make that, as an artist, I don’t have to make. I’m very lucky—knock on wood— that I get to create and say the things that I want to say. I don’t know if I would be okay with not being able to do that as a politician.
Here’s a question for Hasan, non-politician: Where was your first kiss? It was in front of one of my first crushes’ house, before she left for a trip to Europe. It was awesome, but it was also terrifying. She led the thing. She knew way more about that than I did. She kissed me and then used her tongue. It felt like there was an iguana in my mouth. It was just nuts.
How did you feel walking away from that? I took my parents’ car, and I remember I was breaking the speed limit on the drive home. I was like, “What’s happening?” I think I passed through a stop sign. It was crazy. Then—this is going to date me—I went on AIM, and I told one of my friends. I kissed and I straight up told.
What was your screenname at the time? Classic and timeless: “hasanminhaj1.” Apparently, there was a Hasan Minhaj. I added them on AIM, because I had to meet this other person. Then one day, the door opened. Hasan Minhaj appeared, and I was just like, “Who are you?”
Did you meet? No. Immediately, the door closed. It was a metaphor.
Natasha Lyonne, Michelle Williams, Billy Porter, and More Stars Bringing Television To New Heights
The working title of our show was not Fosse/Verdon—it was just Fosse, but then the producers got smart. They realized that Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse were romantic and creative partners who remained entangled until the end of his life. It was the right time, in 2019, to make a show about a partnership. It was also the first time that I’ve had pay parity with a male costar and equal space to voice my thoughts. I’d never experienced anything like it. Since I felt completely supported, I could jump higher and take more risks.
You started acting as a child. Did you find that people treated you—and continue to treat you—in a diminishing way?
Absolutely. When you’re physically small, when men hug you, they pick you up off the floor. That doesn’t happen anymore.
What’s your favorite Fosse musical?
Cabaret. When I performed the song “Maybe This Time” [on Broadway, in 2014], it never didn’t get to me. I’m sad that I’ll never sing it again. Musicals are deep in me: When I did a tap dance for Fosse/Verdon, I realized it returned me to this very primal love, before anything negative was associated with acting, work, or identity. I felt like I was a little girl. It was a genuine moment of joy.
Williams wears a Louis Vuitton turtleneck, skirt, belt, and boots.
I started out doing stand-up comedy at U.C. Davis and then moved to San Francisco, which has one of the most interesting comedy scenes in the country. In comedy, we’re all mutants and we share these different superpowers. Early on, I learned that humor is a way to break tension. It’s a very powerful tool.
Is it easier for you to be autobiographical or political?
I came from The Daily Show, where you are steeped in politics and the news. It’s your life, day in and day out. But for me, as an Indian-American Muslim, I always felt this insider/outsider relationship with America. And because of my background, at this moment in time, the personal and the political merged.
Do your parents worry when your show takes on Saudi Arabia?
Sure. That episode was banned in Saudi Arabia, and my parents said, “We don’t want you causing international outrage and controversy.” They said, “Please just tell embarrassing stories about your childhood.”
Minhaj wears a Prada jacket, pants, and belt; Jil Sander shirt; Shinola bracelet; Dior Men boots.
I honestly didn’t know much about witchcraft before starting on Sabrina, but now I realize it’s just dudes being scared of women and their power.
You were a child on Mad Men. Have you finally seen the episodes you were too young to watch?
I have now seen Mad Men. I can say I’m a fan, but it’s weird to watch your 6-year-old self. Oftentimes, while I was watching, I’d forget that I was in the show. So many things happened to Sally on Mad Men before they happened in my real life: My first kiss was onscreen; I got my TV period before my real period. I was prepared for everything because on Mad Men Sally was a little ahead of me. She taught me the ways of the world.
Shipka wears a Chloé dress; Isabel Marant belt; Cartier ring.
Tell me about kissing Chris Hemsworth.
I was on the shoot for Bad Times at the El Royale, and I still hadn’t met Chris. He played a cult leader, and I was his devoted follower. I knew he was on set, and I wanted to meet him because we had a kissing scene that day. At the last minute—we still hadn’t met—we were about to make out, and I’m like, “How many kids do you have? Oh, you have three kids,” and then—“Action!” He was really nice, but it was super-awkward, and they ended up dropping the scene from the film.
You cut your hair very short for Devs. Is androgyny part of your character?
Yes. The show has to do with a tech company. Secret stuff. My character is really smart and knows quantum physics, so that’s kind of like a superpower. I was supposed to shave my head for the part, and I was always down for that. I think I’m going to shave it all off anyway: I’m so into being bald.
Spaeny wears a Bottega Veneta sweater; Sophie Buhai earrings; Tiffany & Co. ring (right hand); Cartier ring (left hand); Manolo Blahnik shoes.
My first part was in a film called Complicity. I played a boy who gets raped and then kills his rapist. I was 11 years old. It was baptism by fire.
In your TV projects, you seem to undergo torture or get killed a lot.
I love a good death, and I’ve had a few really good demises in my time. On Game of Thrones, I was killed at the Red Wedding. That was my favorite death: full of arrows and then they cut off my head. I was covered in blood and my limbs were hanging off.
Do you have any surprising secret skills?
No. I went to drama school to learn all those skills, and then I was like, “I ain’t going to sing or dance in films, so I’m not going to singing or dancing class. And I can’t be bothered with the fencing class, because I won’t be fencing.” Cut to: I have been sword fighting for half my life and now I’ve had to sing and dance. This is why you should go to class. Kids: Stay in school.
Madden wears a Givenchy jacket; Calvin Klein Underwear tank top; Dries Van Noten pants; Shinola bracelet; Dior Men shoes.
My agent called me and said, “They’re casting a show about a women’s wrestling television program in the ’80s.” I said, “I want that job!” However, I very quickly learned that the producers didn’t think I was right.
Why? Too petite?
Yes, but I’ve secretly been strength training for years. After four auditions, I wore them down. And yes, I’ve learned how to wrestle and throw women across a ring. It’s incredibly empowering.
Do you ever practice by beating up your husband?
I don’t ever beat up my husband. I’ve been known to wrestle our cat a little bit. He doesn’t love it.
Brie wears a Givenchy sweater and skirt; Balenciaga boots.
When I was 12, I was washing dishes at home and the Tony Awards came on. It was the year Dreamgirls was up for best musical and Jennifer Holliday sang “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.” I was in shock: all of these beautiful black people in high fashion with gowns and hair and makeup. At that time, you didn’t see a lot of people of color on television, dripping in style. And Jennifer Holliday sang like I knew how to sing in church, except she was on television! The connection of money, style, and television launched me into this space where I thought, That’s what I’m going to do. I can be that.
How did Pose come about?
They called me in to play the dance teacher. I was like, “Well, this ain’t quite the role I want, but…” I told them at the audition that I felt I’d lived through the world of Pose. I said, “Wouldn’t you need a father figure in the ballroom world?” Because one of the things that’s so powerful about Paris Is Burning [which influenced Pose] is that it’s about a marginalized group of people who had nothing in a world where people were dying of AIDS. And they chose life anyway. I wanted to tell that story.
Porter wears a Thom Browne dress and shoes; Wolford fishnets; his own jewelry.
I moved to California from London because I wanted to be happy. My very first audition was for The Good Place, and it went great: I am now on a show opposite Ted Danson, my hero. As a young girl, I always fancied Ted! Is that creepy? Am I creepy? But, my Lord, he’s still so hot.
Were you on social media before the show began? You currently have 2 million followers on Instagram.
The Good Place asked me to join Instagram, and now I use it to scream at people [laughs]. In all honesty, I think I’ve found a genuine community of people online who are tired of being erased. I understand being challenged: The bravest thing I’ve done in my life was move to Los Angeles, even though I was told I was too old, too fat, and too ethnic. I had no contacts and no friends in L.A. But I got on a plane anyway and flew to California to have an acting career. This had to work: I’m not talented at sex, so I couldn’t be a porn star. And I have no upper body strength, so pole dancing was out.
Jamil wears a Sacai coat; Prada boots.
For my sweet 16 party, my parents knew I loved The Book of Mormon so they had Andrew Rannells, who was one of the leads in the show, come and perform. It was literally the best moment of my life.
You were named after the kooky octogenarian in the film Harold and Maude.
Yes. As a joke, my dad started calling me Maude when my mom was pregnant, and it stuck. I do love that movie.
Do you ever sing any of the Cat Stevens songs from that film when you do karaoke?
No. I sing “The Confrontation” from Les Misérables. I love musical theater. The first album I really listened to was Hairspray, and the first thing I auditioned for was Grease. I was Jan, one of the Pink Ladies. I got to sing in a musical, and I had never been happier.
Apatow wears a Dior jacket, top, and pants; Cartier earrings, necklace, and ring.
I had not listened to the Dirty John podcast, but I heard friends talking about it obsessively. Two days later, my agent asked me, “Have you heard of Dirty John?” That was exciting to me: I love things that are creating conversation in the culture.
Your character, Debra, is both intriguing and infuriating.
I never judge my characters. I looked at playing Debra as almost a women’s studies project. She was self-made and had raised a family by herself, but she had this Achilles’ heel: She needed to have a man in her life. As horrible as it got for Debra, she thought she could handle and change that man. As the show goes on, she becomes more and more aware. We reflected that awakening in her clothing: In the beginning, she wears pink and light colors. And as the situation with John becomes more and more extreme, we go darker. By the end, she’s in black.
You were in a happier marriage on Friday Night Lights.
Kyle Chandler [who played Coach Taylor, her character’s husband] and I really fought for that marriage. Right from the beginning, we said to the writers, “Don’t make one of us go and have an affair.” I think the audience really appreciated that.
Growing up, who did you have a crush on?
Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I. The short shorts. The floral shirts. He was a sexual fantasy. I actually auditioned to play his wife in something. I remember thinking, No, Tom Selleck was a grown-up when I was a little girl. So that didn’t happen.
Britton wears a Stella McCartney shirt; Loro Piana skirt; Bulgari earrings; Tiffany & Co. wrap bracelet worn as necklace; Cartier ring; Tom Ford belt; Balenciaga shoes.
In The Loudest Voice, which is about Roger Ailes and Fox News, I play Laurie Luhn, who was a booker for the shows. To play her, we worked with very orange makeup and a look that was curated by Roger Ailes: the tight, the bright, the overly revealing. And legs. Lots of legs. There were no desks at Fox News, because with a desk, I suspect, you could get up to a lot of trouble underneath.
Do you have a secret skill?
I’m good with animals. When I was young, I wanted to live among animals. I liked sloths the best: That’s the animal I aspire to be like. A sloth just owns it. There’s great power in stillness.
Wallis wears an Isabel Marant top; Hermès skirt; Dior belt; Tiffany & Co. bracelet.
I am from Omaha, Nebraska, and I wanted to move to New York since the third grade. I had never been to New York, but I knew all about the city from watching television. I just knew New York was where I belonged. Later, I learned that most of those New York City shows like Friends and Seinfeld were filmed in Los Angeles. That was a bit of a mind fuck.
Was Girls your first part outside of theater?
No. I had another job playing a headless stripper in Sex and the City 2. It was just me in a Speedo grinding with another guy. On Girls, I played the ex-boyfriend who turned out to be gay and then became Hannah’s [Lena Dunham] best friend. My first nude scene was in season two. Suddenly, I would show up to work and there would just be a pair of underwear on a hanger. I was oddly comfortable with it.
Growing up, who did you have a crush on?
Maxwell Caulfield from Grease 2. He played Michael Carrington. He also played Miles Colby on Dynasty. Every day of my life is a hair tribute to Maxwell Caulfield.
Rannells wears a Dior Men coat and pants; Brioni turtleneck; Givenchy boots.
When I first read the script for You, I was not attracted to Joe, my character. I was like, “Oof—I don’t know.” He’s a villain, and yet he’s also an antihero. He’s seductive, but he’s a murderer. It’s fascinating that people—especially women—are drawn to this guy. The greatest challenge I have is not judging him. I don’t ever think of him as a killer. To him, murder is simply a means to an end.
Did you always want to act?
At the age of eight, I was in The Music Man, and I told my parents, “I want to do this for the rest of my life.” When I was 12, my mom and I went to L.A. and I started working immediately.
Was your first kiss on camera?
No, but starting out so young, you’re always having to display sexuality before you’ve had those experiences. For You, I was tied up in bondage rope for the first and, so far, only time in my life. Look [shows his wrists], I still have rope burn. First time, and it’s on camera.
Badgley wears an Alexander McQueen coat; Boss T-shirt; Jil Sander pants; Sophie Buhai bracelet.
My big childhood claim to mediocre fame is Pee-wee’s Playhouse. I played Opal on that show when I was around 6 years old. I’d already done a bunch of commercials, and they didn’t all air. You want the ads to get on the air if you want to get your imaginary Lamborghini. Sadly, I didn’t get the Lambo.
You always had a smoky voice.
Yes, but thanks to a lifetime of smoking cigarettes—which they recently discovered are actually good for you—my voice has become thicker and deeper over the years.
In Russian Doll, you are asking existential questions.
I am curious about what it means to have a life. I imagined being at death’s door, looking back and asking, “What happened here?” I also recognize that it’s a nice thing to move from a disconnected life to a more connected one.
Who is your cinematic crush?
Recently, I watched Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises, and Mamma mia! My boyfriend, Fred Armisen, was there. I took screen grabs of Viggo’s nude fight scene and told Fred the stills were for research. Usually, when I play this game, I think it’s best to pick dead people—to say, like, “Isn’t Peter Falk a babe on Columbo?” I’m also very disappointed to discover that Idris Elba and I did not get married. I think many women felt the same way.
Lyonne wears a Marni dress; Tiffany & Co. wrap bracelet worn as necklace, and bracelet.