In February, White House Correspondents' Association president Jeff Mason named the host of the 2017 White House Correspondents' Dinner. This year, the honor went to Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj, a comedian with an established track record in political comedy and satire, but who is not (yet) a household name like recent hosts Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers.
President Donald Trump announced that he would not attend the annual event, which has historically brought together politicians and members of the media to celebrate the First Amendment and raise money to provide scholarships to aspiring journalists. The president's absence didn't keep Minhaj from ripping into him, of course. You can check out his most vicious lines from the WHCD here. Want to know more about Minhaj? Here's the lowdown on the comedian.
1. He was a political science major in college before discovering comedy.
It's fitting that Minhaj specializes in politically charged comedy. He graduated from University of California, Davis, with a degree in political science and didn't discover his passion for comedy until he was in college. What won him over? A viewing of Chris Rock's Never Scared special. After that, he started experimenting with stand-up comedy (even competing in, and winning, Mr. India California with comedy as his talent), which led, eventually, to his Daily Show career.
2. He's the senior political correspondent on The Daily Show.
Minhaj found the perfect marriage of his passions for political science and comedy with a gig on The Daily Show, where he serves as senior political correspondent and regularly skewers Trump administration policies and decisions. He joined the Daily Show team in 2014, just one month before Trevor Noah took over for Jon Stewart as host in 2015.
"Jon's advice has always been, 'Move toward your discomfort and talk about things that people aren't willing to talk about and do the show you feel needs to be done,'" Minhaj told entertainment website Exclaim in 2016. "That's all we're trying to do."
On The Daily Show, Minhaj has made a name for himself with viral segments like "Minhaj's Muslim Makeover."
3. He hosted his own political web series, "The Truth With Hasan Minhaj."
In addition to his correspondent duties on The Daily Show, Minhaj also has experience as the host of his own web series, "The Truth with Hasan Minhaj," which ran from 2012 to 2013 and was produced by the sketch group GoatFace Comedy. In the series, he tackled important social and political issues, breaking them down for audiences with just enough comedy to keep viewers engaged while educating them.
"One of the [motives] behind GoatFace was, 'Hey, we don't see ourselves on screen and why don't we share what we want to see on the screen with the world. Why don't we just make it ourselves?'" Minhaj told Master Chat magazine. "It may not be in a big Hollywood movie budget sort of way, but when it was something like The Truth or Indian Spiderman or any of the sketches that we shot, it really came down to us rolling up our sleeves and putting our blood, sweat and tears into it. [Sure] enough, it had an audience. People hadn't seen stuff like that before and they really, really liked it."
The Truth covered everything from Ashton Kutcher appearing in brownface in Popchips ads to racist responses to the Miss America pageant's first Indian-American winner.
4. He has lots of experience interviewing politicians.
Minhaj should be comfortable (or as comfortable as anyone can be) joking about politicians at the WHCD. On The Daily Show, he doesn't just provide commentary from afar, he also has experience interviewing high-profile politicians one-on-one. In one of his most memorable interviews, Minhaj sat down with Canadian Prime Minister and liberal internet heartthrob Justin Trudeau — while donning a Canadian tuxedo, naturally.
5. He hosted a similar event last year.
The White House Correspondents' Dinner won't be Minhaj's first political hosting gig. In 2016, he was tapped to host the Radio and Television Correspondents' Dinner on C-SPAN.
The dinner was attended by members of Congress and the media, and Minhaj did not hold back. During the event, he called then-presidential candidate Trump a "racist Cheeto," but he also took swipes at Hillary Clinton.
"The reality of the situation is Hillary is the dude in the relationship and we don't know how to feel about it," he said. "We're all in bed with Hillary late at night, and we're looking at her cell phone, and we're like, 'Hey, who's Wall Street?' And she's like, 'Don't worry about it, babe, it's just a friend from work.'"
He also criticized the media and Congress. His comments on the Orlando shooting, which happened just a few days before the Radio and Television Correspondents' Dinner, went viral.
"What we saw in Orlando was one the ugliest cocktails of the problems we still see here in America; a cocktail of homophobia, xenophobia, lack of access to mental health care, and sheer lack of political will," he said.
6. He has a personal connection to Trump's so-called "Muslim ban."
Minhaj, whose father immigrated to the U.S. from India, was born and raised in California and was brought up Muslim. As such, he's been particularly outspoken in tackling issues like Trump's travel ban.
"In regards to being Muslim, I think this is a yuge opportunity to reach out and find allies," he told Comedy Central when asked if he felt pressure as a Muslim comedian in the time of Trump. "And the incredible thing is that, from the Women's March to the travel ban, I've seen people of all communities coming together and standing up for one another. Trump is inadvertently forcing us to show him how great this country truly is — that we are better together than we are divided."
He was an early commentator on the Muslim travel ban and shared a personal story on The Daily Show about traveling into JFK the weekend the ban was implemented. Although the travel ban was a traumatic experience for many, Minhaj focused on the positive impact he saw when traveling through JFK.
"Usually, being a Muslim at an airport sucks, but this weekend, it was like I was The Weeknd ... Literally three white people ran up to me to thank me for being Muslim," he joked in the Daily Show segment.
He also famously broke down the Muslim ban in a video called "Hasan the Record — President Trump's De Facto Muslim Travel Ban."
"Trump's executive order blocks anybody and everybody from seven verrry Muslim countries in the Mid-East and Africa from entering the U.S. at all," he said in the segment, which parodied high-energy YouTube explainer videos. "Now this may not be the Muslim ban, but it's definitely a Muslim ban."
In one particularly viral clip from The Daily Show, Minhaj went as far as to call Trump "White ISIS."
7. He's an outspoken LGBT advocate.
In addition to his advocacy for Muslim Americans' rights, Minhaj is also an outspoken ally to the LGBT community. In 2015, Minhaj coauthored an open letter with Iranian-American author and scholar Reza Aslan urging Muslims to support same-sex marriage.
"Here's the thing. When you are an underrepresented minority — whether Muslim, African American, female, etc. — democracy is an all or nothing business," they wrote. "You fight for everyone's rights (and the operative word here is 'fight'), or you get none for yourself. Democracy isn't a buffet. You can't pick and choose which civil liberties apply to which people. Either we are all equal, or the whole thing is just a sham."
8. The dinner doesn't necessarily want him to rag on Trump.
Even though Minhaj has proven himself adept at crafting jokes that cut to the heart of problems in politics and media, don't expect him to spend his time onstage at the White House Correspondents' Dinner roasting Trump. At least, Mason says that's not what he's been hired to do.
"We were not looking for someone to roast the president in absentia — that's not fair and it's not the message we want to get across," Mason said during a recent interview on MSNBC's Morning Joe. "I'm confident [Minhaj will] be able to … strike the right balance."
9. But he already made a jab at the president in his announcement.
In his statement announcing his hosting gig, Minhaj made his first jab at Trump — albeit a fairly tame one. In the statement, he mimicked Trump's infamous Twitter tone with an all-caps SAD!
"It is a tremendous honor to be a part of such a historic event even though the president has chosen not to attend this year. SAD!" Minhaj said in a statement. "Now more than ever, it is vital that we honor the First Amendment and the freedom of the press."
10. He has a Netflix special coming soon.
In January, it was announced that Minhaj's critically acclaimed one-man show, Homecoming King, will come to Netflix this spring. The show is based on Minhaj's real-life experiences as a first-generation Indian-American and includes personal stories about his experiences growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood, including a disastrous experience with his white prom date.
11. He'll be competing with his former colleague, Samantha Bee.
The White House Correspondents' Dinner won't be the only media event in D.C. on April 29. The same night, Minhaj's former Daily Show colleague, Samantha Bee, will be hosting an event of her own, the Not the White House Correspondents' Dinner for, well, everyone who doesn't want to attend the White House Correspondents' Dinner. (Except Donald Trump, who has expressed no interest in attending either event.) Proceeds from Bee's event will go to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
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