On Wednesday evening, the USC Speakers Committee, Political Student Assembly and Asian Pacific American Student Association hosted a night dedicated to “embracing differences” with guest speaker Hasan Minhaj. The series of events hosted by the organizations aims to highlight what it means to be an Asian Pacific American through a series of diverse speakers.
Minhaj is currently a comedian and senior correspondent on The Daily Show and the Netflix special, Homecoming King, launched in May last year.
Senior Nav Pillai served as Minhaj’s opening act — an appropriate choice, claimed Pillai, as they are both “exceptionally good-looking brown men.” A charged Bovard audience roared as Pillai, who began working on his stand-up just last semester, joked about the universal struggles of having Asian parents and wishing he could have gone to Hogwarts.
In accordance with his Daily Show reputation, Minhaj’s set took a more politicized approach to comedy. Specifically, he discussed issues surrounding immigration and racial prejudice using his signature animated graphs and news footage as evidence. He recounted his visit to the Mexican border, where he was tasked with reviewing the eight prototypes of President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall — “the Goldilocks of racism,” as he called them. The anecdote led to a powerful message regarding the false stereotypes of immigrants in American society: “When an immigrant knocks on your door, it’s an Indian guy there to set up your wifi. A white person knocking on your door is terrifying — it could be the feds, an ICE agent.”
Moreover, Minhaj did not shy away from addressing the stereotypes that accompany Muslims in America. Minhaj joked about when a gun salesman in Alabama questioned why Muslim women dressed “like ninjas” and compared it to the repressed women of Disney fairytales.
“White Disney princesses are some Sharia law sh-t,” Minhaj said. “Cinderella is forced to befriend mice! Who makes their women befriend mice?”
In comparison, Disney princesses of color experience more freedom and power: “When Princess Jasmine’s dad tells her she needs to get an arranged marriage, she says, ‘F-ck you!’ And then she flies on a magic carpet with a Muslim guy whose best friend is a monkey,” he joked.
Minhaj also took the opportunity to introduce various statistics that contradict common prejudices about the potential danger of immigrants and terrorism. For instance, according to the CATO Institute, one in 3.6 billion people are killed by a refugee.
“You have a higher chance being buried alive!” Minhaj exclaimed. Moreover, Minhaj asserted that three in 784,000 refugees were associated with terrorism. To emphasize the lack of danger posed by refugees, Minhaj interviewed an underwriter at an insurance company and found that purchasing insurance to protect oneself from terrorism was significantly cheaper than purchasing insurance to safeguard from “Kanye going crazy at a Kanye concert.”
“This is a rational argument to an irrational fear,” Minhaj said.
As photos of Syrian refugees appeared on the stage screen, Minhaj softened his tone: “These are people that are fleeing persecution and fighting for a chance to save their humanity. We’re on our third travel ban now; if these people are willing to wait in line for two years to have a chance to enter this country, we should at least consider their applications.”
After his set, Minhaj stayed to answer audience questions about his life and the future of comedy.