ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King
By Jacob Horn
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.