• Hasan Minhaj, of MTV’s ‘Failosophy,’ on social media, Ashton Kutcher, selective racism (Interview)

    In Hasan Minhaj, the producers of MTV’s Failosophy have secured a host with quite possibly the most apt-fitting credentials imaginable for the task at hand. Boasting a storied background in a comedy brand that orients itself around piecemeal mockery of all things social media and Internet user misfortune, Minhaj has quickly become identified as a capable comedian with an innate understanding of what makes user-generated content just so damn funny. And with resume highlights that include a web series and a prevailing presence on any number of pop culture talking-head style panel lineups, Minhaj’s modern style has easily found common ground with Failosophy, a new comedy series that spotlights the best of what you might call The Gong Show of social media.

    Checking in with Laughspin, Minhaj laid down some knowledge on his mastery of auto correct, his beef with Ashton Kutcher and Pop Chips, and the proper way to handle a TwitPic of a clown mask.

    Let’s jump right in with Failosophy. How did you get involved in this project, and what compelled you to want to do it?
    The way it all went down was that Jim Biederman was one of the producers of the show. He had sold the show to MTV along with Evan Mann and Gareth Reynolds, and they happened to catch wind of some of the videos that I was doing, that were kind of popular, I guess. They really liked the videos and the other comedy stuff that I was doing, so they had me audition for the part, and I got it.

    Specifically, was there anything about it that appealed to your brand of comedy, or just yourself as an individual?
    I thought it would be really fun, and what I’ve found to be really fun and interesting about it, is that… I’m part of a sketch group called Goatface Comedy, and I have this web series called The Truth with Hasah Minhaj, and [the producers] had seen that and thought I’d be a good fit. It’s the kind of show where I take a topic and I dissect what’s happening in pop culture. I would break down what’s happening on social media – like just various social media fails – and so I knew I could totally do this [project]. It’s right up my alley, and especially when I found out who was behind the project, I was like yeah, absolutely. Everything that Jim has done has been something that I’ve admired, and looked up to in the comedy world.

    Do you have a hand in picking the content at all? How do you and the producers come by the content that you feature?
    I do have a say on like what jokes I know I’m going to tell, and kind of how I want to dissect and pick on the people that we talk about on the show. But all of our writers – we have a great bunch of tremendously talented writers – help pick the material. And here’s the thing with the Internet: when it comes to Internet fails, sites like Reddit and Digg and stuff, it’s like the gift that keeps on giving. People just willingly upload this stuff, and it’s like yeah, this is amazing. They just put it online, and so I think that was one of the best parts; just the girth of material. We actually shot some of those episodes two or three times longer than the ones you see on air. Each episode is like 22 to 23 minutes, but we shot each episode to be 45 to 50 minutes. So, yeah, we had a lot of material.

    Our writers are great, too. They’re a real pleasure to work with. They’re just a lot of comics that I know, and it’s so great to just work with them and talk shop and do jokes with them. It really is the best job ever.

    Have you ever had a run-in or any sort of personal encounter with one of the people who made the videos?
    Okay. So I haven’t had a personal encounter with anyone who has been on the show. But on the night of the show’s premiere, we did a Twitter takeover on the MTV account, and we were just interacting with the fans. People that were watching the show were getting involved with the live Tweet situation, and there were a couple of people that were like, ‘Oh my god, my boyfriend is on the show.’ One of these dudes was like really super scary looking, too! He was wearing this mask, like this clown mask that looked like it was out of that old scary movie It and this woman was like ‘Oh my god, that’s my boyfriend!’ And I’m like, ‘Are you serious?’

    So she sent me a TwitPic of her boyfriend holding that clown mask – that very same specific clown mask, and she was like ‘Yup, that’s his job.’ I was like ‘Wow, this is so ridiculous on two levels: number one, that you happened to catch the show at the right time, enough to be like, oh man, that’s him; and number two, that every person who was on the show had to sign off. They willingly were like oh yeah, totally, go for it. This is my profile picture. This is my life. Yeah, go for it.’ The fact that she had signed off on it was really ridiculous to me.

    Have you, yourself, ever been on the other side of an Internet mishap? Are there any cyber fail skeletons in your closet?
    I’ve never had a bad autocorrect fail. I know that’s a big thing that a lot of people have had, but I think my iPhone knows me so well. It can get all the cuss words right, and I think I use bad language so often in text that my phone is just like, yeah, I know this guy is a degenerate. You don’t mean ‘mother trucker.’ I know what you’re trying to say.

    What distinguishes Failosophy from predecessors like Tosh.0 and Ridiculousness?
    I think the thing that distinguishes us from Tosh.0 and Ridiculousness is that those two shows are specifically focused on Web video. But this show in particular is kind of about people in their every day, day-to-day lives on social media. It’s the text message fails, the dating profiles, the Facebook profiles, prom photos, personal photos; all that stuff. Stuff that we do every day, whereas Ridiculousness and Tosh.0 are more about home videos. The only video that we have is the one where we recreate an audience member’s story. What I think is so great about our show is that we are really, really, really about the audience, and we’re really about their involvement in social media.

    This show is all about social media, and we heavily communicate with the audience through social media. There’s a segment on the show where we actually talk to the person we did a sketch about, and there’s another segment where we do a poll of the actual studio audience. We poll the audience about some crazy thing they might have done, like, who here has had sex in the janitor’s closet in high school? It’s really cool, because everyone is in on the joke, and everyone is super involved, from the audience to the people on the panel. That’s what makes it so fun.

    I watched your response again to the Ashton Kutcher PopChips ad [see video below], which I was shocked to see actually existed. In it, you called Indians and Asians the new ‘clownable minority.’ Have you experienced many instances of this personally in the American entertainment sphere?
    First of all, so many people have told me that they had no idea that commercial had aired. PopChips removed that commercial from the Web within 30 to 40 minutes, and this is one of the really positive things about the Internet: there was such a negative backlash, that they immediately backpedaled. But the reason that I made the video was because, like, how was this even put out to begin with? You know, as a comedian who has worked in this industry, I know how many hoops you have to jump through just to get something made. And the fact that this got made… it went by a director and a producer and so many different barriers, and then it got put out by a distributor and an ad agency. It was just ridiculous to me that it got made. So I just wanted to dissect it and examine it in a way that asked, okay, why is this acceptable to be made? I think that, in this era, for whatever reason, it’s acceptable to make fun of the Asian-American community– and people kind of just get a pass on it.

    I’ve also thought of it this way: you know how, like on Mad Men they’ll show an African-American guy working on an elevator, and they’ll show you how people treated them back then? And people will watch it and be like, oh my god, grandma, grandpa! Did you treat black people like that back then? A lot of people were [like that], it was the 60s, it was a very different time. I think the modern equivalent of that might be something like, grandma, grandpa, did you treat Asian people like that to their face? You can totally throw Indian, Korean, Chinese people right under the bus, and it’s totally commonplace in comedy, and I don’t know why that is. I just wanted to talk about that. I think it’s because, if people start talking about it, maybe it won’t change overnight, but I think it will make people think about it. It’s just strange how we won’t make fun of certain people, but with these groups, it’s totally game.

    I really hope it changes. Here’s the thing: as a comedian, I totally get it. People, all people, should be willing to make fun of and laugh at themselves. It’s like I said in the video: if you’re going to be racist, at least be correct in your racism. If they were really specific with the satire, I might laugh at that, but when they come at it all vague and hacky, it’s like, c’mon, that’s not even much better than Apu from The Simpsons. We have an opportunity now, because of the Internet, to know so much about our culture, but the PopChips clip was just so hacky, I cringed just watching it.

    When you were first getting into comedy, did you see your ethnicity as more of a hindrance, or an opportunity to carve out a unique niche for yourself?
    When I first got in to comedy, I never really focused on that specific part of it. I started doing stand-up comedy in college, and the thing I loved about comedy was that you could just talk about anything and everything. I’d talk about stuff like me growing up, and what I did in high school – just stuff that everybody in my generation kind of dealt with. Music! Facebook! AIM! Stuff like that. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve just tried to hopefully evolve as a comic, and I’ve started to be more specific in what I talk about. I talk about personal experiences that I’ve had, and I think the more specific that I’ve been, whether it’s about my upbringing or my parents, people can relate to it regardless of ethnicity. I think that’s the thing about comedy: the more specific you get, the more universe your reach is.

    What do you feel the immediate future holds for both Failosophy and you as a comic?
    With Failosophy, I just hope that people keep watching the show. I just hope that people keep watching it, and they keep being involved with the show. At the premiere, it was so wonderful to just interact with the fans, and find out why they had come there. It was great; I loved it. I just hope that the audience keeps watching and that the audience grows. In terms of my specific comedy, I just hope that I keep writing material that’s super true to myself, and that I talk about things that I really care about. One of my biggest goals in terms of being a constant creator is to just make stuff that I always wanted to make. Stuff that I would find super hilarious. As long as I can keep making stuff that I feel I would enjoy to watch, I’ll continue looking forward to the future.

    I would say, just keep watching Failosophy, every Thursday at 10:30 pm EST and keep Tweeting at @MTV and at @FailosophyMTV every week. We’re going to be tweeting a lot of things from the episodes, and it’s going to be a great time.

    Tune in to Failosophy every Thursday at 10:30 pm EST on MTV.

    PS: Because we know comedy, we interviewed Hasan way back in 2009– before he was a big MTV star. Read the interview here.

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    Emma Kat Richardson

    Emma Kat Richardson is a Detroit native and freelance writer living in Austin, Texas. Her work has appeared in xoJane.com, Bitch, Alternative Press, Real Detroit Weekly, 944, and Bust.com. She’s enough of a comedy nerd and cat lady to have named her Maine Coon Michael Ian Cat. Follow her on twitter: @emmakat.

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