Indian American comic Minhaj hosts Trump-less press corps dinner
The line that came to define his riff, as the one most cited and bounced around on social media was: “Only in America can a first-generation Indian-American Muslim kid get on this stage and make fun of the president.”Updated: May 11, 2017 11:06 IST
Hindustan Times, Washington
Comic Hasan Minhaj became the first Indian American on Saturday to headline the entertainment section of the annual White House correspondents dinner. He also became the first in recent memory to roast the leader of “our country”, a tradition, in absentia.
“The leader of our country is not here,” Minhaj said in the opening minutes, “because he lives in Moscow, it’s a long flight .. and hard for Vlad to make it … as for the other guy … I think he is in Pennsylvania because he cannot take a joke.”
But the line that came to define his riff, as the one most cited and bounced around on social media was this: “Only in America can a first-generation Indian-American Muslim kid get on this stage and make fun of the president.”
And this on a more serious note, that also received quite a few mentions: “The president didn't show up. Because Donald Trump doesn't care about free speech. The man who tweets everything that comes into his head doesn't show up to celebrate the amendment that allows him to do it."
President Donald Trump was indeed at a rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, updating supporters on the achievements of his first 100 days in office. But also because he wanted to make a point, air his differences with news media.
The last time Trump attended the dinner, in 2011, he was skewered by President Barack Obama and then host Comedian Seth Myers — it was the same night that US navy SEALs found and killed Osama bin Laden in his Pakistani hideout.
According to tradition, the president of the day gets to lob around a few jokes, mock himself (not herself yet), his aides, journalists, rivals and critics. It’s all good fun till it gets nasty, and nasty it can get as that night in 2011.
But good for Minhaj, a first-generation immigrant from Mumbai, India, he wasn’t forced to share the limelight, it was all his for the night, which is considered a watershed moment in the career of comics, leading to national celebrity, or infamy.
Minhaj built some of his jokes around his identity as a Muslim and an immigrant, both of which are at some risk in Trump’s America swept by unabating Islamophobia and distrust of immigrants, specially from Muslim-majority regions.
“I would say it is an honor to be here,” he said about being selected to headline the dinner, “but that would be an alternative fact (hat-tip: Trump aide Kellyanne Conway). No one wanted to do this. So of course it landed in the hands of an immigrant.”
And then this about the right-leaning Fox news: “As a Muslim, I like to watch Fox News for the same reason I like to play 'Call of Duty’, he said, adding, “Sometimes, I like to turn my brain off and watch people say terrible things about my family.”
First Published: Apr 30, 2017 14:21 IST