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A CurtainUp Review
Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King

"Every time a brown father says 'Log kya kahenge?' ['What will people think?'], a star actually falls from the sky."
—Minhaj, introducing a central phrase that runs as a motif throughout Homecoming King

Homecoming King
Hasan Minhaj, the Homecoming King (Photo Credit: Andrew Kist)
The idea for the full autobiographical show that became Homecoming King grew out of Minhaj's appearance on The Moth Radio Hour, a popular storytelling show, during which he described how his high school prom was tinged by both typical teenage social woes and racial prejudice. This story (a centerpiece of the stage show as well) showcases Minhaj's knack for combining comedy with unexpected sensitivity and seriousness — the same formula that allows him to succeed as a correspondent on The Daily Show, but deployed around the more personal subject of his experiences as a first-generation American from an Indian Muslim family.

It's this kind of thoughtful introspection that characterizes the entire show, with Minhaj proving a reliably authentic narrator and appealing protagonist. The stories in the show cover diverse ground. They encompass more common experiences, such as dealing with school bullies, as well as more unusual ones, like abruptly being introduced to a sister you didn't know you had.

The sum total of the show is very carefully considered: Homecoming King, directed by Greg Walloch, arrives at the Cherry Lane Theater after two years of gestating. Every step of the way, our narrator creates links between stories, connects with audience members, and reflects on the lasting lessons of the episodes he recounts.

But Minhaj's storytelling, carefully choreographed as it is, can sometimes betray a rhythmic pattern that leads us from audience interaction into matter-of-fact foundation building; a humorous escalation; a revelatory, serious moment with a lasting lesson; and, finally, a humorous coda that moves us away from the weight of the story's climax and brings us towards the next one. Of course, there's nothing wrong with such rhythms (where would we be without the monomyth of the Hero's Journey?), but as this cycle repeats throughout the ninety-minute show, it starts to feel like even the intonations and gestures of the narrator are keyed to the different parts of this rhythm, and the later stories can start to feel tonally repetitive even when the content is different.

Uneven pacing is partly responsible here: most stories continue for what feels like roughly the same amount of time, even though some are more meaty than others, especially the later ones focusing on the 30-year-old comedian's mounting professional success. This will do little to dissuade those who have labeled the millennial generation as narcissistic over-sharers. Though Minhaj doesn't deserve to be called a narcissist, it's true that there's a certain audacity to how he celebrates his success before an audience.

That's somewhat par for the course in comedic memoir, though, and Minhaj's contribution to the genre has value deriving from both its performer's talent and its injection of diverse life experience into a notoriously homogeneous field. Without delving deep into racial commentary — certainly not in the way his influences Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle are known to — Minhaj never lets the subject of race fall away, whether through the inclusion of the "New Brown America" series of illustrations by Sam Spratt (pastiches of Norman Rockwell's depictions of American life) or his setting up the production website with a special section aimed at encouraging a conversation outside the theater.

Tackling racism may be formidable for an off-broadway debut, but here Minhaj seems to be well on his way to discovering a forceful comic voice with real subversive potential. Homecoming King doesn't quite deliver a fully refined product, but it's easy to say with confidence that this is just the start for its tireless, up-and-coming performer.

Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King
Written and performed by Hasan Minhaj
Directed by Greg Walloch
Scenic Design: Sarah C. Walsh
Lighting Design: Sarah Lurie
Video Designer: Gil Sperling
Art Direction: Sam Spratt
Production Stage Manager: Joshua Kohler
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
The Cherry Lane Theater, 38 Commerce Street
Tickets: $30-$40;
From 10/15/2015; opened 10/23/2015; closing 11/15/2015
Performance times: Thursday–Saturday at 9 pm (except for a 4 pm performance on October 31) and Sunday at 7 pm
Reviewed by Jacob Horn based on 10/22/2015 performance
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