With 13 episodes under its belt, Netflix’s “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” wants to double down on original reporting. At the April 6 Emmys FYC event for the freshman variety talk show, co-creator and host Minhaj announced the intent to expand the series journalistic bonafides.
“We’re going to have an internal investigative reporting team at ‘Patriot Act,” Minhaj told a packed house at Netflix Home Theater. “Going forward, we’re gonna start breaking long-lead investigative reports that we’re providing all the footage and sources for. I’m really excited to do that.”
The comedian described the series as an “investigative visual comedic podcast” and performs each episode on an EDM-inspired set, complete with huge video screens and floor graphics.
“It’s been really cool to see the [variety talk] genre continue to expand,” said the “The Daily Show” alum, an observation that should give the Television Academy pause.
Once exclusively the domain of nightly talk shows hosted by white men, recent years have seen the genre splinter, including recent category dominance from HBO’s weekly “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” as well as nominations for TBS’s weekly show, “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.”
“Patriot Act” is hosted by Minhaj, a Muslim whose parents immigrated from North India before his birth. He takes the model a step further, divorcing itself from the churn of the immediate news cycle and focusing on complicated, evergreen issues that deserve deeper consideration such as student debt and censorship in China. This approach can also bring its own relevancy.
“One of the things we talked about in the affirmative action episode was legacy admissions and the way people sometimes cook the books to get into a school,” Minhaj said.
“And, who would have thought, about a month ago, Aunt Becky, who also works for Netflix would have gotten herself involved in such a conundrum,” he continued, referencing the admissions scandal the ensnared several celebrities, including (former) “Fuller House” actress Lori Laughlin.
Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Netflix
“Patriot Act” also makes headlines of its own accord. In its debut episode last October, the series took on the United States’ historically complicated relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, particularly in light of the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi on the reported orders of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
In January, it was discovered that Netflix pulled the episode in Saudi Arabia after a legal request from the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission, accusing the “Patriot Act” episode of allegedly violating anti-cybercrime law.
Fallout was swift, with people on either side of the political aisle bemoaning the streaming service’s capitulation to censorship, but Minhaj saw things a little differently.
Speaking to IndieWire after the event, Minhaj said Netflix was candid with him about the difficulties of dealing with a global audience and country-specific censorship laws.
“I’m happy to say that they did not temper or measure anything that I’ve said in either the Saudi Arabia episode, the Saudi Arabia update, China censorship, and Indian elections,” Minhaj said. “So I’m proud to say that I’ve been able to say whatever I wanted to say.”
Which is not to say that free speech comes without a price. During Saturday’s panel, Minhaj joked that “as the reach of our show continues to expand, the places I can visit gets smaller.” Specifically, he expressed concern that he would not be able to complete his Hajj, a Muslim’s mandatory duty to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, given his harsh words for the Crown Prince and the kingdom’s attitude toward critical journalists.
“There is a constant tug for myself personally between the responsibility I feel as a person with a platform. I feel like so many people are looking to me to say things that they’ve always felt,” Minhaj said.
“I have an incredible privilege being an American comedian,” he continued. “That means I have the freedom to poke both corporate and international bears that are sometimes dictators that control a lot of things.”
But Minhaj also understands that throwing truth bombs can have a larger fallout than anticipated.
“I also have to balance that with people that I love and care about and the impact that it has on them. So what I’ve tried to do is be as truthful and honest as possible and be measured in my approach,” he said. “I didn’t sign up to be comedy’s Tupac. The goal is to live to see the next day.”
Despite real-life consequences, Minhaj’s journalistic zeal flies in the face of censorship and paywalls. “News, by definition, is only news if it’s shared,” he said. “Otherwise, it’s a secret.”
“Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” returns in May on Netflix.
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