For some of us who grew up in white-bread America, being homecoming king is an embarrassment worse than OD-ing on Clearasil. Almost as bad is going to your high school prom. For the record, I didn’t go to my high school prom, and hadn’t thought about it until I saw “Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King,” which opened Friday at Off Broadway’s Cherry Lane Theatre.
Why would a 30-year-old Indian-American Muslim like Hasan Minhaj, a correspondent on “The Daily Show,” obsess about a high school dance more than a decade after the fact? That fixation is the subject of his one-man show, directed by Greg Walloch.
Minhaj was inspired to do stand-up comedy after seeing Chris Rock‘s “Never Scared.” Rock’s raucousness didn’t rub off that night. Minhaj offers a very benign comedy that’s intended to pull on your heartstrings more than it’s meant to shock. Which is unusual in 2015. In an era of snark, Minhaj’s a very nice, eager-to-please guy.
“Homecoming King” isn’t raunchy or filthy or even political. It’s the Indian-American Muslim answer to Billy Crystal‘s “700 Sundays,” a title that refers to the number of Sundays shared by the young comic and his father, who died when Billy was 15.
On the plus side, Minhaj is a more natural stage performer than Crystal, who, at the 2004 Broadway opening of “700 Sundays,” sounded as if he were reading from a script. Minjah is totally spontaneous, even though he’s been working on this show in various cities for two years. He’s engaging, ebullient, and it’s easy to see why Jon Stewart made him one of his last hires on “The Daily Show.” Minhaj also knows how to tell a story, and better yet, you believe him when he lets go with little details like having to walk six miles in the rain to get home after school because no one would allow a “brown kid” into their car pool in all-white Davis, California.
Minhaj’s prom-night rejection isn’t as harrowing as Carrie White’s, but it left a psychological black eye that never left him. Suffice to say that Minhaj’s current success is that white bitch’s comeuppance.
As memoirs go, “Homecoming King” spares us drug addiction, prostitution, child abuse and other staples of the genre, although Minhaj does claim as a child to having been slapped a lot by his father. He explains that all Indian-American children get slapped a lot, which is why they don’t express much emotion when they win five-figure prizes at spelling bees.
Watching “Homecoming King” reminded me of a good, not great, Meryl Streep movie called “Prime,” in which Uma Thurman‘s character tells her much younger date, played by Bryan Greenberg, not to begin every sentence with the words “mom” or “dad.” It would be a step forward for Minhaj if he obeyed that rule for his follow-up show.