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Comedian Hasan Minhaj on political satire and ‘the American Dream Tax’

Hasan Minhaj, a former correspondent for “The Daily Show,” grew up in California as the son of immigrants, experiencing childhood as a "brown kid in America." With his new show "Patriot Act" premiering this week on Netflix, Minhaj shares his brief but spectacular take on political satire, the "American Dream Tax" and the wisdom he gained working with Jon Stewart.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finally, the latest in our Brief But Spectacular series, where we ask interesting people their passions.

    Tonight, actor and comedian Hasan Minhaj of "The Daily Show" on tackling serious topics with the tools of comedy.

  •  Hasan Minhaj:

    I personally feel, as elder siblings, and specifically the first children of immigrants, we kind of are like the first-round draft pick for our for our parents. We are the LeBron James for them. So, we are the franchise player.

    And then, if it doesn't work out with us, they keep drafting. And that's what second, third and fourth children are for them.

    I grew up in Davis, California, which is sort of the forgotten part of California. I had a very unique relationship with what it meant to be a brown kid in America. My dad really has this lens through which he sees America, where he sees it through eyes of an immigrant. He's so grateful to be here.

    And so he's willing to go through whatever it takes to survive and be successful here. He's willing to pay the American dream tax, whereas, for me, as a first-generation child of immigrants, I actually have the audacity of equality.

    The American dream tax is sort of this concept that I came up with where I noticed that my dad, when he would see either micro-aggressions or full-on aggression happen in America, he sort of considers that to be the cost of entry.

    So, you're going to endure, you know, racism or bigotry or micro-aggressions. And if it doesn't kill you, well, you know, it's worth it. Pay the tax.

    When I told my dad I wanted to pursue comedy, he said, do you have a drug habit?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Hasan Minhaj:

    Jon Stewart to me was kind of like comedy dad. I don't think my parents thought he was a comedian. I legitimately think that they held him to the same esteem as like a Dan Rather.

    I was like, dad, you know, the show is a comedy show, right? And he is like, no, no, no, no, it's much more than that.

    Usually, you get to pick or choose one or the other. You either work on stuff that's meaningful, but not funny, or that's funny, but not meaningful.

    "The Daily Show" is one of the rare cases in show business where you get to do both.

    People turn to political satire shows to actually get the news. And I talk about specific issues in regards to bigotry, racism, Islamophobia. So a lot of times, people are like, well, what's your hot take on this?

    And I'm like, hey, man, I have got to internalize this and think about it before I can just be the Nelson Mandela to this issue, you know?

    Jon gave me this really great piece of advice. You know, there is no joke or TV show that will solve these problems. Art, music, culture, all of these things, they're kind of lightning rods that just strike people's hearts at the right moment. Hopefully, that song or that movie or that show strikes at a moment and strikes a chord in people that makes them take action.

    But the necessary condition is the action of people, not a TV show or a joke. So I appreciate everybody being like, you're my voice. But I'm just a very small piece of the larger puzzle of change.

    Hey, my name is Hasan Minhaj. This is my Brief But Spectacular take on political comedy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You can watch all our Brief But Spectacular episodes at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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