What's it about?
In Homecoming King, an original one-man show, Hasan Minhaj (yes, the guy from The Daily Show) tells about his experiences growing up as the son of Indian immigrants.
What did I experience?
I booked it from Hunter College to 63rd and Lex, the nearest train station where I could get an F train. I wasn't immediately worried about getting to the theatre on time because Google Maps painted a pretty clear picture: I needed to take the F to West 4th street and then walk a short bit to the Cherry Lane Theatre.
But the panic set in when I stopped to get a dollar slice at West 4th street. I glanced at my phone while waiting in the much-longer-than-I-thought line for my pizza. 7:15pm. The show started at 7:30pm. Shit. I considered getting out of line, but my protesting stomach kept me where I was.
By the time I got my food it was 7:25pm, and my bad sense of direction was kicking my ass. Even though I was staring at a map provided by my highly intelligent electronic device, I still had to rely on the kindness of complete strangers to orient me, which left me pounding at the red double doors of The Cherry Lane Theatre at exactly 7:32pm, two full minutes after the show was said to start.
I felt nauseated, convinced that the theatre had some super strict policy against late entries. I was only a few minutes late, surely the show wouldn't begin exactly at 7:30pm! I carried on with my frantic knocking for half a minute, before some couple (likely concerned about my sanity) pointed out that the entrance to the theatre was to the right of the red double doors.
The show hadn't even started yet! Out of breath, frazzled, and embarrassed, I mumbled a thank you to the couple and (finally) entered the theatre.
The house was only just filling up, but it still took me five minutes once I was seated to calm down.
Then, freaking Hasan Minhaj walked on stage, and everybody started screaming. I kind of expected him to just go straight into a monologue, but he started talking directly to the audience, asking how we were doing and questioning individual people about where they were from. It reminded me of being at a comedy club. I felt at ease and ready to laugh.
But Hasan's show wasn't just stand-up, it was his life's story! And the more I heard about Hasan's life, the more I viewed his comical commentary as a coping mechanism, just a way to lighten the heaviness of the what he had experienced.
One of Hasan's stories that particularly got me was the story of Hasan not defending his friend from a bully at school. His best (and only) friend from childhood was bleeding on the floor, and rather than rat out the culprit, Hasan remained silent, something he regrets to this day.
Somehow this brought me back to middle school, to a time in my life when I was bullied almost daily. A boy named Daniel, pimple-faced and awkward, was the one person in our class who was hated more than I was. He admitted that he had a crush on Chloe, loud mouthed and cruel and one of the most popular girls in the school. Chloe, realizing that she did not want to be lumped together with somebody like Daniel, decided to turn the spotlight on me. During art class, she asked Daniel (so everybody could hear) whether he preferred me or her. Daniel screamed out "You know what? I like Gemma more, because she's actually nice to me." I wanted to die. I was already in a difficult enough position at school, why did the one person who had it worse than me need to practically proclaim his love? Everyone turned to me, singing "Gemma and Daniel, Gemma and Daniel!" Daniel then walked up to me and asked me on a date. I froze. Nobody had ever asked me on a date before. I didn't want to date Daniel, but I wouldn't have minded being asked out by him if he had kept it private. I turned to him and shouted out "Ew, of course not. Go screw yourself!" and Daniel returned to his seat, clearly upset. Thinking about this moment makes me cringe. Even though I was a 12 year old girl, I know I knew better, and Daniel was the last person at my school who deserved poor treatment. Why did I tell Daniel off so harshly?
Log Kya Kahenge
(What will people say?)
"Log Kya Kahenge" is the same reason Hasan allowed his friend to be victimized. He, like I, was too concerned about what other people would think to do what was right.
Hasan's parents wondered "Log Kya Kahenge" when Hasan decided to be a comedian for a living, and once again when he chose to marry a woman who didn't share their Muslim faith. When I spoke so rudely to Daniel in a public setting, I was lowering myself to the level of all of my bullies. In that moment, I became a bully because I so desperately wanted to fit in.
Hasan never fit in. Raised in America, he would never be Indian enough to fit in with his parents, and his ambitions didn't match the high standards his family held for him. Hasan was the one brown person in a sea of white people throughout school. The first person Hasan fell in love with was a little girl in his class. When he told her he loved her, she rejected him, screaming that he was the color of poop. In high school, Hasan's prom date's parents stopped him from escorting their white daughter to the dance, reasoning that they were going to take photos to send back home and he wasn't the "right fit."
I think we all occasionally feel like an outsider, however, my "outsider" status is not visible. I am protected by my white skin, and can't imagine what it must be like to feel so vulnerable and misjudged based on my skin color, religion, and culture.
And Hasan was raised feeling that way. His parents justified their expectations for him with "Log Kya Kahenge," his prom date's parents justified their treatment of him with "Log Kya Kahenge," and I humiliated a sweet boy because I was so worried about "Log Kya Kahenge." If I'm honest, there have been many views of mine that I've compromised for other people. Hasan is living proof of how foolish that is, Hasan who didn't pursue law or medicine and is now a regular on The Daily Show, Hasan who married the love of his life ten months ago despite her being Hindu, and Hasan who proudly counts the person he failed to save as a child as his best friend today.