Hasan Minhaj Learned Stand Up Comedy Through Debate Club | Screen Tests

He may be one of the world's most famous comedians today, but Hasan Minhaj first learned how to navigate the comedy scene from an unexpected source: high school speech and debate. In his Screen Test, the comedian talks about getting his comedy start and avoiding starting international crises with his jokes.

Released on 7/25/2019

Credits

Starring: Hasan Minhaj

Transcript

00:00
Our worldview her in America is pretty myopic.
00:03
America is the center of the world,
00:05
and then everything is periphery to that.
00:07
But for me, as an Indian American Muslim,
00:09
I felt this insider-outsider relationship with America.
00:12
I know about the coup that was happening in Sudan
00:15
or what's happening right now in Venezuela
00:17
or our relationship with India.
00:19
All of these things are things that never get talked about.
00:22
They get swept underneath the rug
00:24
because of some sort of presidential gaff,
00:26
and that becomes the news.
00:28
I just happen to be this person
00:30
with this background in this moment in time
00:33
to where I can be one of the first people
00:35
to stand up there and say hey, can we take a moment
00:38
to assess our relationship with this country?
00:40
Can we stop to just talk about that
00:42
before we dedicate an entire show to AOC's shoes?
00:46
[Lynn laughs]
00:52
First time I was on camera was in the eighth grade
00:55
was when I gave a presentation for a history class.
00:58
I don't know if I was particularly good,
01:00
but I knew I was gonna get extra credit.
01:01
That's the main thing, yeah. [Lynn laughs]
01:03
I had my eyes on the prize, and I still remember it.
01:05
I was wearing a long-sleeve red shirt,
01:06
and they still, and my eighth grade civics teacher
01:09
still uses it as an example of this
01:11
is what you can do if you go the extra mile,
01:13
so now I do that all the time.
01:14
I go the extra mile on camera all the time for extra credit.
01:17
I had been doing speech and debate
01:20
and forensics in high school.
01:22
And if people go, what was your specific event,
01:25
I was impromptu.
01:26
Impromptu's really hard.
01:27
If you're in impromptu speech and debate,
01:29
you really have to go top of the dome.
01:30
They just give you a topic.
01:32
It was one of the things that primes you the most
01:33
for standup comedy. Yeah.
01:35
You have to be present, you have to be aware
01:37
of what's happening in the room, be aware of the variables,
01:39
what the person said before you, what the energy is like,
01:42
what the parents are doing in the room, is it before lunch,
01:45
is it after lunch, is someone checking their phone?
01:47
What's happening?
01:49
Address that, and also address the larger argument.
01:51
I didn't know that these were the seeds
01:54
for what you need to do as a comedian.
01:57
So by the time I got to college and I started
01:59
to see standup comedy for the first time,
02:01
I thought to myself, oh,
02:02
this is speech and debate but funny.
02:05
My thing that I always kept that threw everybody off
02:07
was I was going to poke fun
02:11
at what the other person just said,
02:12
and that's not in the rule books.
02:14
You're not supposed to do that,
02:15
but that idea of you're competing against somebody,
02:20
they're from another high school,
02:21
they're generally an overachiever,
02:22
this is this extracurricular activity they're doing
02:24
on the weekend, and for you to poke holes
02:26
in their argument by just making fun of them,
02:29
whether it was their argument, intonation of their voice,
02:32
maybe them flubbing the last line,
02:34
[Lynn laughs]
02:36
that, off the bat, got me 10 to 15 points higher,
02:38
just from the parents.
02:39
They were like, look, I've been here nine hours.
02:41
The fact that you addressed that stupid poem that kid said
02:44
at the end of his argument, thank you for doing that.
02:46
[Lynn laughs]
02:47
And I notice humor is one of the few things
02:49
that can just break tension; it's a very powerful tool.
02:53
We did an episode on the show about Saudi Arabia,
02:55
and so we analyzed not only the United States's relationship
03:00
with Saudi Arabia but Muslims' relationship
03:01
with Saudi Arabia around the world
03:03
and also the role that American politics
03:06
is currently playing with that relationship.
03:08
And that episode was banned from Saudi Arabia.
03:12
They pulled it off the service,
03:13
and it started this whole international discussion
03:16
and debate about the United States,
03:18
our foreign policy, and censorship online.
03:21
And obviously, my parents were like,
03:22
please don't be at the center of these things.
03:24
We don't want you causing international outrage
03:27
and controversy.
03:27
Please just tell embarrassing stories about your childhood.
03:31
Who was my first TV crush?
03:33
Hilary on Fresh Prince.
03:35
I love Fresh Prince.
03:36
I love Will Smith.
03:36
I wanna meet Will Smith.
03:38
I'm sure you will. I don't know if I will.
03:40
Lynn, we don't know how long these things last.
03:41
[Lynn laughs] No, but I tell my family this
03:43
all the time.
03:43
They go, why do you make the choices that you make?
03:44
And I go, Mom, Dad, you know what it's like
03:46
for us as immigrants.
03:47
You don't know how long we're gonna get to stay here.
03:49
But that's in our DNA, the idea of hey, you don't know.
03:52
Hey, this could all be over.
03:54
Safety is not guaranteed; that's number one.
03:56
Yeah. But then,
03:57
for me as a child of immigrants,
03:58
as if my parents risked everything to be here,
04:00
then we gotta empty the tank and say what we gotta say.
04:02
If tomorrow's not guaranteed, then I gotta empty the tank.
04:05
Okay,
04:06
I cannot say the person's name No, no, not the person.
04:07
I can't say the person's name,
04:08
No, that's fine, I said where.
04:09
But my first kiss was with one of my crushes,
04:14
and it was in front of her house
04:15
Aww. before she left
04:17
for a trip to Europe.
04:19
It was awesome.
04:20
It was awesome, but it was also terrifying.
04:22
She
04:23
led
04:24
Uh huh, oh!
04:25
the thing. Uh huh.
04:27
She knew way more about that than I did.
04:29
She kissed me and then used her tongue,
04:32
and it felt like there was an iguana in my mouth.
04:34
It was crazy. [Lynn laughs]
04:35
I had no idea that's the way kissing, it was crazy.
04:38
It was just nuts, it was nuts.
04:40
I took my parents' car, and I remember I,
04:43
on the drive home, I was breaking the speed limit.
04:45
I was like, what's happening, and I was speeding.
04:47
I think I passed through a stop sign; it was crazy.
04:50
And then this is gonna date me.
04:51
I went on AIM, and I told one of my friends.
04:53
I'm like, oh my God, I kissed so and so, duh duh duh,
04:55
and he was like what?
04:56
And we, yeah.
04:58
I kissed and straight up told. [Lynn laughs]
05:01
My junior year of high school,
05:03
I kissed and I straight up told.
05:05
[Lynn] What was your email address then?
05:06
Hminhaj@yahoo.com.
05:09
Even then, I wanted to pick a email that would age well.
05:13
I wasn't going to be fireant82@juno.com.
05:16
You know what my AIM screen name was?
05:18
It's also classic and timeless.
05:19
What was it? Hasanminhaj1.
05:21
Apparently there was a Hasan Minhaj.
05:23
I added them on AIM, and then, one day,
05:24
the door opened, doo-doom, and then Hasan Minhaj appeared,
05:27
and I was like, who are you?
05:28
[Lynn laughs] 'Cause I had
05:29
to meet this other person. And did you meet?
05:32
No, immediately, the door closed.
05:34
[Lynn] Oh. [laughs]
05:35
It was a metaphor.
05:36
Hasanminhaj1 has a nice duh-duh-duh-duh.
05:38
Exactly, exactly. It has a nice ring to it.
05:39
Yeah. Just got
05:40
a really good thing.