Netflix continues their love affair with stand-up comedy specials with Hasan Minhaj’s Homecoming King. The stand-up/ storytelling set in Davis, California tackles the immigrant family experience in America that intersects with race, class, and gender among other issues and takes the audience an emotional roller-coaster with a ton of laughs in-between. Also roller-coaster-like was the camera movement in the special. Unlike other stand-up sets, Minhaj looks directly into a roving camera at times. The camera moves around actively, zooming in and out, panning, and rotating around Minhaj. These movements at time take away from the focus on the jokes and speech. But, it also lines up with Minhaj’s overly speedy speech.
I very much empathize with the stories Minhaj tells. For example, when the Davis-born comedian explains, “Immigrants aren’t going to hit their children the way you do. Americans hit their kids on the arm and bruise the body. Immigrants slap you across your face and bruise your soul.” The humor comes from the variation of experiences that Minhaj points out. There is the contrast of cultural practices, but it is also pointing out the displacement of such practices in their American context. The displacement is two fold. The immigrant practice is out of place because it is not socially acceptable for “Americans” to slap their children on the face. At the same time, it provides a sense of discomfort for those who haven’t experienced this form of physical discipline along with its psychological effects. They laugh at the discomforting difference that is there.
One particularly strong thread throughout the special is the issue of race. Minaj skillfully weaves our contemporary concerns about the violence against black lives and racism against Muslims in the post-9/11 era. Although the entire special feels rushed, Minaj pushes home a single message. No, it is not the final punchline of, “I’m the cure for racism,” but it is that we all have quite a bit in common with one another, and perhaps, through laughter over our pain that we can come together rather than pointing out differences that only push us apart.