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Normally, while reviewing a one-man show by a stand-up comedian one must be careful not to give away too many of the funny one-liners. No such problem arises with Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King, in which the correspondent for The Daily Show recounts his experiences as a first-generation Indian-American.
To be fair, Minhaj is not going for cheap laughs in his off-Broadway theatrical memoir. Instead, he delivers a bittersweet and mildly amusing account of growing up in Davis, California, and being raised by his father after his mother returned to India to pursue a medical degree. Although he largely concentrates on the difficulties of being brown-skinned in a mostly white suburban town, his adolescent and teenage travails definitely have a universal quality.
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But while the 30-year-old performer is charismatic, engaging and, to quote one female audience member, “cute,” he’s failed to shape his reminiscences into fully compelling theater. Describing such experiences as being brought to Home Depot by his father who’s forgotten his birthday, coming to terms with a younger sister he didn’t know he had and being bullied at school and ultimately befriended by a classmate derided by others as a “retard,” Minhaj spins tales more appropriate for a late-night gathering with friends than a one-man show. The evening has the feel of an extended Facebook posting.
The show’s centerpiece is a poignant account of a prom date with a girl he describes as “my white princess,” which goes painfully wrong. The details won’t be revealed here, though suffice it to say that the evening involved a not-too-subtle form of racism that left a long-lasting emotional scar. But while the story is undeniably affecting, the unnecessarily extended exposition it receives feels far more cathartic for the performer than the audience.
Minhaj also proves awkward in his strained interactions with audience members about such issues as the ages-old clash between Hindus and Muslims, comparing it to “the Montagues and the Capulets.” Like nearly every other segment of the show, which runs a punishing 105 minutes, it goes on far too long.
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And while it’s nice to hear about how well his career is going, his ebullience over landing his first NYC stand-up gig, being featured in a Pizza Hut television commercial and getting praised by Norman Lear wears thin. And his account of meeting Jon Stewart for the first time, and subsequently being hired for The Daily Show, lacks comic spark.
Trotting out a series of family photographs, including one from his recent wedding, Minhaj consistently elicited so many “Awwws” from the younger audience members that even he made fun of them. His show clearly has an emotional quality that resonates with his fans. Too bad, then, that he fails to bring sufficient focus and consistent comic observation to his subject matter.
Writer-performer: Hasan Minhaj
Director: Greg Walloch
Set designer: Sara C. Walsh
Lighting designer: Sarah Lurie
Costume designer: Kristen Buckets
Video designer: Gil Sperling
Presented by Mike Lavoie and Mike Berkowitz
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Producers Guild of America