Patriot Act Volume 3 review: Hasan Minhaj perfectly blends his incisive monologues with funny asides
Hasan Minhaj returned with six brand new episodes of Patriot Act, that dealt with issues ranging from protests in Sudan to corruption in Indian cricket
Hasan Minhaj made a landmark debut in the variety show sphere with the Peabody-winning Netflix series Patriot Act, which began streaming in 28 October, 2018. The format of the show — part stand-up comedy, part political commentary, part news show was hardly a novelty. But Minhaj capitalises on the popularity of his predecessors' shows — like Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, and even East India Comedy's famous segment Outrage — to create a 25-minute-long episodic series with incisive monologues on burning issues. He did away with the standard table-chair setup for a snazzy stage with digital display boards that pop up with brightly-coloured bar graphs and pie charts.
The third volume, arguably less personal than the first two seasons, added six new episodes in the line-up. Less personal since none of the topics dealt with this time around required him to present deeply personal observations about his own experiences as an American-Indian Muslim (as he did with season 1 episodes Immigration Enforcement or Affirmative Action).
However, it does, in no way whatsoever, dilute the brand that is Patriot Act. His identity, in fact, gives him a nuanced edge over his white counterparts. He is not a white onlooker who is looking down at world's problems through a white-washed lens. He's as much a part of the milieu, dispelling myths, cracking self-deprecating jokes and bringing in a rounded perspective to pressing issues.
The episodes, that range from corruption in Indian cricket to climate change to unrest in Sudan, are as hard-hitting as any of Minhaj's previous diatribes, but also peppered with the comedian's sharp one-liners. Some of the episodes also feature special segments of interviews with concerned parties, most often to 'first hilarious-then contemplative' effect.
Perhaps one of most distinctive things about Patriot Act is that it is unabashedly unapologetic. Minhaj has never shied away from opining about contentious topics, backed by water-tight facts and figures. Hence, Minhaj kickstarted the third season with a keen look at the rapid deforestation of the Amazonian rainforest and its global impact. Minhaj explained how Brazil's President, Jair Bolsonaro, also referred to as the “Trump of the Tropics”, is responsible for the rampant rise in deforestation. He then shared that the president had tweeted a video of a man urinating on another man, which originated the hashtag #GoldenShowerPresident. The agribusiness, that the president partakes in, requires cattle-ranching, which in turn causes 80% of deforestation. Concluding his monologue, Minhaj introduced a hooting and cheering audience to a donation website whose name has been derived from — no prizes for guessing — the Golden Shower President.
The second episode delves into the crevices of gun control, and why Trump is pulling out of the UN's Arms Trade Treaty, which was created to regulate the use of weapons that could lead to widespread abuse of human rights. "Who could possibly be opposed to Arms Trade Treaty," asks Minhaj, before pictures of Kim Jong Un, Bashar al-Assad and the National Rifle Association (NRA) flood the screen behind him. He highlights that most governments who oppose gun control believe that the "immigration invasion is real" and that immigrants "dismember, mutilate and torture." Hence, they justify possessing guns by believing it is to defend themselves from the "swarming" immigrants.
"But maybe, those immigrants aren't invading, they're just returning those guns to sender," Hassan proposes, underpinning NRA's persistent lobbying for gun rights.
The third and fourth episodes ring closest for an Indian audience, as it focuses on two of the three topics considered as religion in the subcontinent— cricket and politics. Titled Cricket Corruption, the third episode is all that the game itself has successfully concealed under the rug. While the frenzy that surrounds cricket is perhaps understandable, considering India has consistently excelled at the sport that was once introduced by Britain/"the world's first spam bot" as a method of colonial "upliftment." But the same sport, now repackaged as a 20-over tournament called IPL, is wrought with corruption. He says that the BCCI, flushed with the revenue from IPL, is inhibiting the sport from expanding worldwide.
He also takes plenty of jibes at the infamous ignorance of Americans. "The last time India and Pakistan played each other in the World Cup, over a billion people tuned in,” he says. “In terms of viewers, that’s nine Super Bowls, 52 Game of Thrones finales or a billion Murphy Brown reboots. And yet, when Americans hear the word ‘cricket,’ they think of the insect, the cola, or the data plan you get if you want to start selling cocaine.”
But the highlight of the episode is the interview with Lalit Modi, the now-exiled founder of IPL, who denied all allegations against him save one, that he was instrumental in fuelling the power consolidation of the BCCI thanks to IPL.
Despite its roots entrenched deep into corruption, Minhaj admits that cricket is "at least fun to watch now." Once a coloniser's tool, cricket has come a long way in becoming a global unifier. But Minhaj has just one complaint, "Lalit Modi is colonising it for ourselves."
The fourth episode takes up from where Minhaj last left us — the Lok Sabha polls have ended, with BJP's sweeping victory. Revealing that he refused to attend a volatile news discussion regarding the poll results, Minhaj shares tweets where netizens have accused him for swinging the votes in the oppositions' favour. He disagrees — he thinks "comedians don't do shit," reminding that his mentor, John Stewart, was in "full form" when George Bush was voted as US president in back-to-back elections
He may not be a harbringer of change, but he sure is a necessary voice of dissent in an increasingly fundamentalist climate.
But Minhaj steers clear from preaching. The half-an-hour long episodes are concise, yet brimming with information. Despite his frenetic storytelling style that can sometimes leave the audience with an information-overload, the generous doze of comedy and Hasan's inclination towards a tight, neatly-woven narrative ensures that viewers are tethered back to his set by the end of the episode.
Thus, even episodes that deal with crises in Sudan or the lack of Internet access in parts of America, transcend geographical boundaries. The military crackdown on protesting Sundanese civilians is as much a humanitarian concern for an American using McDonald's WiFi for his basic needs, or an Indian watching cricket matches standing on the sidewalk of a television show-room.
His attempt to bring about a positive change is Patriot Act's USP. From starting websites to saving the Amazon to making episodes available on Netflix's almost-extinct DVD rental services (so that those who don't have adequate Internet access can also watch the episode), Minhaj not only unfurls a problem, but also tries to provide clear solutions.
Three volumes down, Hasan Minhaj continues to amaze audiences with his winning formula — a dash of current affairs, a pinch of personal asides and a dollop of poignant storytelling.
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