Part 2 • Hasan Minhaj Interview on Challenges Comedians and Artists Face in America

Sahil Badruddin: Besides skill, what do you feel are
some of the biggest challenges new and upcoming comedians or artists face currently in America? Hasan Minhaj: I think it’s two things. I would say that the number one pressure is,
especially for artists that grow up in communities like ours, there’s this huge pressure of
how do you define success in a career where there are really no guarantees? Look, everything in life especially in the
workforce is subjective but– especially art. Art is one of the most subjective things. Finding a career in show business is also
incredibly subjective. How do you define success by that? Sometimes people don’t know how to define
it for themselves. Sometimes they’re defining it the way other
people define it. I think that’s a lot of pressure and something
I struggled with when I was a young artist; what is making it mean. The second thing is, while you’re dealing
with the struggle, grind and climb, how do you stay true to your own voice? How do you find your voice and cultivate that? There’s a little bit of like you have to
immerse yourself in a community but you also have to really get things to really be quiet
and really think about, “What do I want to say? What do I want to share with the world?” Especially when you’re coming up, you really
want to be like your role models. You really try to emulate them. As you continue to evolve and grow, you start
to realize, “Look, there’s only one me. I really have to refine and hone and find
my own unique voice.” Sahil: I’m going to ask something a little
more personal. As you hustled your way through this, there
were times, I know you’ve spoke publicly, where you said your parents and your peers
didn’t always support you until you made it, right? Hasan: Right. Sahil: What advice would you give for a guy
who’s hustling, who’s struggling? But you know there are certain hurdles in
certain cultures, for example, there’s less appreciation for arts or music or comedy as
careers. As you said, there’s no tangible metric,
right? Even advice on how to have that conversation
with parents and peers. Hasan: Look, there does come a point I think
for every artist where you just have to burn the boats. It really is– it does come down to where
you just have to rip the bandage off. I remember that happen when my LSAT score
expired. I had to have just like a really rough conversation
with my parents. That was a real thing I had to go through. My parents, their concern was just like, “It’s
not that we don’t think that— Sahil: They care about you. Hasan: —you doing comedy is a bad thing.” No, we think you’re very capable. We think that– we just want everything to
be okay. We want your life to be okay. We don’t want you to struggle. We don’t want you to live on an air mattress
and all that stuff.” I think I came to a really important conclusion
for myself; I can only do things that I’m all in for. I just really loved comedy that much. Honestly, I had no problem sleeping on an
air mattress and just having my yellow notepad and having my show that night. Sahil: As long as you did what you loved? Hasan: Yeah. For me, I really realized making it was just–
there was a moment where look, there was gas in my car, I was able to go to chipotle and
get a burrito with avocado. I could afford the extra $1.45 to have guac. I had health care and I was doing what I loved. I’m like, “This is it. This is making it. This moment where I’m at, if it increases
any more, that’s great, but this is making it.” I’m paying rent and doing what I love. Sahil: This was pre-‘Daily Show’, right? Hasan: Pre-‘Daily Show’. I just came to terms with it. I’m just like, “Look, people in the community
think I’m a loser, I’m not funny, but I have a person who loves me who’s now my
wife, I’m healthy and I do what I love.” At that point– and you hit a certain age
where you’re just like, “Look, I’m 28, 29, I really can’t entertain trying to make
you happy or trying to convince you that I’m worthy of your appreciation or support.” Sahil: You made a good point about at least
you met the basic necessities and you made peace with that and then it still kicked off. Hasan: Yeah. To me, it’s just like– especially in show
business people who I look up to; the Jim Gaffigans, the Jon Stewarts, the Jerry Seinfelds,
they’ve all told me. This concept of fame, it ebbs and flows, it
is not constant. There are going to be times where people are
like, “Oh my god, you’re selling out theatres” and there’s times where people are like,
“I’m not really into him anymore.” One of the biggest inspirations for me was
this comedian named Dick Gregory who passed away. Dick Gregory was one of the most famous, most
prominent both political comedians and African American comedians. He was just a real trailblazer. He broke a lot of ground. He passed away in his 80s. He’s a legend; every comedian respects him. I had this conversation while talking to another
comedian friend of mine; what was really amazing about Dick Gregory is he was playing at Caroline’s
Comedy Club, which is a comedy club which sits maybe 300 or less. He is an icon, but he still had dates on the
books before his death. I remember my friend and I, Roy Wood, Jr–
Sahil: He was 80! Hasan: In his 80s. He was like, “Man, Dick Gregory has dates
on the books when he died.” That’s incredible; that’s incredible to
me. That’s how I define success. I really encourage other artists to define
it that way too.

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