Hasan Minhaj reads the paper during his weekly pre-show haircut in his dressing room in New York, on Nov. 6, 2019. Image: Victor Llorente/The New York Times
In “Patriot Act,” his topical comedy series on Netflix, Hasan Minhaj is ambitious. “The types of stories that I gravitate to are big international stories, big cultural stories or big domestic issues,” he said. “That’s the gamut for me.”
But in his personal life, intimacy rules: the cozy evenings spent cooking in his Hell’s Kitchen apartment with his wife, Beena Patel, who works in health management; the mornings with their 19-month-old daughter; the late nights watching a sketch comedy show or listening to his favorite sports podcast.
Minhaj, 34, tracked his cultural diary for The New York Times, starting with an appearance at Stand Up for Heroes at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 4 and ending with his weekly Wednesday-morning barber’s buzz. These are edited excerpts from an interview.
The Bob Woodruff Foundation has this show called Stand Up for Heroes, which helps give aid and services to veterans. It was really cool, like a “Daily Show” reunion. It was me, Jon Stewart, John Oliver, Ronny Chieng, and then Bruce Springsteen and Sheryl Crow performed.
My parents immigrated here [from India] in the early ’80s, so my frame of reference for everything is late ’80s, early ’90s. Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie — these guys were never these huge temporal parts of my childhood. When I was walking backstage, I was like, “Oh, it’s Bruce just tuning his guitar.” It doesn’t mean that same thing to me as to everybody in the audience that was going, “Bruce!” And it’s actually incredibly liberating. Because for Jon, Bruce is the man. And for me, Bruce is this raspy-voiced dude that talks about growing up in a small town in Jersey. And I’m like, “All right, dude, we get it.”
My holy trinity is Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G., Mitch Richmond, who played for the Sacramento Kings. Those are the guys that would make me go like, “Oh my God, they’re here!” Now, if Shah Rukh Khan, who is a huge Bollywood star, walked in, I wouldn’t be able to do my set.
Morning is my time with our baby daughter because my nights go until pretty late so I don’t get a chance to put her down. She’ll get up at around 6:30, and we’ll listen to “The Lion King” Broadway soundtrack. She loves the opening song, “Circle of Life.” Then I’ll change her diaper and as I clean her off, I know that one day she will be changing mine. We’ll also watch this show called “Little Baby Bum,” where the characters will do everyday tasks that children do. They’ll sing songs: “I wash, wash my hair. I brush, brush my teeth.” In her music class at the library, one of the teachers speaks French. So there’s this song that she kept singing, and now I ask Alexa to sing “Alouette” to her. Then we’ll run down the hallway. She’ll knock on people’s doors because other people in our building have dogs. She loves dogs. And I understand why: They’re other creatures that are her height.
As soon as I get in my office, I have The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal on my desk. One of the things I’ve always tried to avoid is the endless scroll that is the news. What I love about a physical newspaper is that there’s a finite amount of news. I love turning to the Opinion page and being like: These are the eight opinions. That’s it. Whereas with Twitter, the opinions never end.
I read “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport and that really changed a lot of things for me. My cellphone is in black and white and has super low lighting, so it’s very ugly and I look at it less. And there are no social media apps. I use the screen only when it’s absolutely necessary. It’s about my own head space. We’ve become a sea of screen babies. I try to minimize that noise for my own humanity.
When I found out that the heads of all these [tech] companies — Sundar Pichai, Satya Nadella, Steve Jobs — don’t let their kids use screens, I’m like, No way [am I letting my daughter]. It’s like finding out the CEO of McDonald’s never had French fries.
The Buzzfeed article “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation” has been making the rounds within the office because we’re doing a big episode on mental health this week. Mental health has been something that we’ve been tracking for a long time because it’s finally something we’re talking about in the cultural zeitgeist. Our show, I think, is at its best when we talk about things that actually affect people’s day-to-day lives, and then we talk about the mechanisms that are put in place to make it hard for people.
I scroll through Twitter and read Jess Dweck and Mike Drucker. Jess and Mike will always have a new angle to think about something that’s happening topically. Jess had this tweet the other day: “When Stephen Miller proposed, do you think he got down on one knee or all six knees.” Mike had this tweet on Halloween: “Just took 20 mgs of melatonin. let’s get this Halloween party started with some [expletive] nightmares.” I love how at the end of both of those jokes it just takes a hard left turn into absurdity.
Beena is an amazing cook. She loves getting inspo from Chrissy Teigen’s Instagram story, or we’ll see a Tasty video, and I’ll be like, “Oh my God, that’s really good.” We’ll generally watch that stuff at night when I get home. There’s something so fulfilling about watching a task get completed via time lapse. Beena made this Southwest Tex-Mex rice bowl, and because it was in the Instant Pot, the chicken was really tender and the texture was amazing. I love the Instant Pot.
Because my whole life is politics and news, it’s really nice to have something that matters but doesn’t matter, and sports is a great outlet for that. Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles were two big Clippers players for me in the late ’90s, early 2000s. They now have a podcast, “Knuckleheads,” and they’re able to talk about their experience in ways that they never were able to when I was growing up. They’re able to get Kobe Bryant very comfortable because they’re like: “I played against you. What were you thinking when you did this to me?” They’re laughing and they’re really loose. It’s as if you’re in the locker room with them.
And then I watched an episode of “I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson.” First of all, Tim Robinson is hilarious, and I love that show because not only is it insanely funny, but — and this is rare for sketch comedy — the sketches are perfectly timed. It’s absurd and crazy, but the sketches are only two minutes long, and it just gets my mind off something as heavy as insurance companies denying people’s mental health care treatment.
I get a haircut done in the studio the day we tape every week. I have this speaker in the makeup room, right where the chair is, and I’ll listen to a mix of hip-hop from, I would say, ’96 to ’98, like Jay-Z’s “Reasonable Doubt” and Biggie’s “Life After Death.”
I love my barber. When I first moved to the city, Jordan Klepper told me about this barbershop called Frank’s Chop Shop. There was always this long line for this one barber named Hiro. And when I finally got the show, I mustered up the courage to ask Hiro if he would cut my hair on show days. What’s great is it’s the one time of the week where I’m in the office before everybody else. Nobody can come down. There’s nothing that I have to immediately answer. The script was already turned in the night before. Everybody in the studio is already ingesting all the graphics. It’s this one hour where I’m basically alone, and it’s awesome.
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