Hasan Minhaj

Comedian Hasan Minhaj performs at the UIC Forum Feb. 10. Photo: Amod Mahadik

Hasan Minhaj — a stand-up comedian and correspondent on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” — kicked off LOL@UIC 2018 Saturday by asking students for their permission to share new material, on one condition: that no one recorded any part of the routine to share online.

The verbal agreement fostered a sense of community and connection between Minhaj and the audience of more than 2,100 students, allowing everyone to share the moment together. What followed was a night of never-ending laughs as Minhaj touched on a wide variety of topics, ranging from refugees to Disney princesses.

Many of the jokes Minhaj made could be considered political in nature. He attributes the ability to make such jokes, and for the jokes to be so well received, to the art of stand-up comedy.

audience laughing

Photo: UIC Creative & Digital Services

“For me, I see comedy as a really amazing vehicle to share the truth. And the fundamental of comedy is built upon building up pressure and releasing it. That’s why laughter is so effective,” Minhaj said in an interview after the show.

What is unique about Minhaj performing in front of a UIC audience was that one of the ways he got his start was by making YouTube videos in college and performing for his college Muslim Student Association (MSA) and South Asian Student Organization (SASO) at the University of California, Davis.

“Doing MSA stuff and SASO stuff was stage time,” he said. “It was an opportunity to perform on a stage in front of that many people. You’d get to do it once a year, but it was a huge deal, and it was really, really awesome.”

When asked about the path he took from videos and performances in college to being on “The Daily Show,” and what advice he would give to others with artistic aspirations, Minhaj acknowledged both the opportunity and challenges that the digital age provides.

“We’re living in an incredible time where you can distribute your art in a lot of really cool and interesting ways; but I’m also saying it’s an incredibly difficult time for young artists because they’re like ‘Man, will it get enough likes, will it be good enough? Why should I post this song? I’m not Donald Glover; like come on, I’m not as good as Dave Chappelle, so why would I even put up this comedy sketch?’” he said.

“And I think that stinks. So, my piece of advice for a lot of young artists is to first of all ask what your personal strength is, and really quadruple down on that. Get as specific as possible, and really ask yourself in a vacuum, irrespective of what everyone else thinks, ask yourself, ‘What is my personal strength?’ And then number two, if this is what your passion is, you’re playing the long game. Where you are two years from now, four years, 10 years, is irrelevant.”

As someone whose dreams led to life on the biggest stages — from being a correspondent on “The Daily Show” to performing at the 2017 White House Correspondents’ Dinner — one would wonder if the fame and attention has reached Minhaj, but not an ounce of arrogance or ego could be found in him.

“I just feel lucky, man,” he said. “I’ve been doing comedy a long time, so I’m very lucky people actually care. It’s just gratitude, and I want to continue doing great work while I have people’s attention.”

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