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“Patriot Act” Supplies Unity in Divided State

Illustration by Sadie Winkelstein

Netflix is one of the most popular streaming services these days. They seem to have everything you could ever want to watch: comedy shows, horror movies, documentaries, and much more. Not only are they a streaming service, but they make their own shows and movies. Recently, they added a weekly political satire show called Patriot Act.  A new episode comes out every Sunday, and each episode focuses on one event that is happening in the mainstream news.

The show is hosted by Hasan Minhaj, a stand up comedian. He effectively integrates his own perspective into all of his jokes and the complicated political matters that he talks about. The format is very similar to that of other political talk shows. The difference is that Minhaj puts more of his own identity into the politics. While other talk show hosts may just show you an image of current news and crack a joke about it, he will crack the joke and then tell you why you should care. It creates a more effective dialogue with the audience because he is not just spouting facts, he is also engaging and reaching that part of the brain that is thinking critically through his humor.

Many of his jokes involve his own perspective as an Indian American. For example, in the short trailer that Netflix provides for the show, he makes a joke about the expectations that he received as a young Indian kid growing up, and how they are changing. “When I was a kid, it was very clear that I either had to be a doctor or a lawyer, but recently Indians have been changing that narrative.” He cuts to several video clips of Indian men being charged with various white-collar crimes, to which he responds, “We went from being valedictorian to convicted criminal.” This is something that flies under the radar for many people, but he is able to make comments on cultural stereotypes in a way that isn’t offensive, something many other stand up comedians are not able to accomplish. He treads very carefully on the line between controversial and funny, and succeeds.

The first episode of the show is about the affirmative action lawsuit that is taking place at Harvard. Potential students of Asian descent are concerned that spots that they have “earned” are going to black students as a result of affirmative action. In the show, Minhaj reports on the lawsuit with a particular viewpoint, one that opposes the lawsuit. He makes jokes about his past experience in applying to Ivy Leagues, and how Asian families deal with the entire college application process.

The show is made through the perspective of an Asian American, but it’s concerning  that in a lot of the jokes, Asians end up on the receiving end. In a lot of ways, the views that are expressed by Minhaj can come off as self-loathing. As he states, he is “the first brown late night host,” but it makes you wonder if he is doing more harm than good with his jokes.

Overall, the show is just what we need in a troubling time when the nation is divided. Rather than look at our cultural differences with fear, Minhaj shows us how we can laugh at them, ultimately making us more united. I look forward to seeing how the show grows and watching the stories that Minhaj will cover in his next episodes.