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Hasan Minhaj The King’s Jester review: Sincerity and satire blend seamlessly in Hasan bhai’s new Netflix standup special

Rating: 4 out of 5

Hasan Minhaj The King's Jester review: The comedian's second Netflix standup special combines his vibrant storytelling style with the gaudy production that we've all come to expect from him.

Hasan Minhaj in a still from his latest standup special, The King's Jester. (Photo: Netflix)

Towards the end of his latest standup special — The King’s Jester — comedian Hasan Minhaj reveals the meaning behind that title. His ultimate effort, he says by way of explanation, is to switch seamlessly between satire and sincerity, and trust the audience to understand the difference.

This was essentially what he did — to resounding success, mind you — in his first Netflix special, Homecoming King. Minhaj, an alumnus of the Jon Stewart school of political satire, switched things up, and delivered an hour-long set that had the production value of a Broadway spectacle and the self-reflection of a one-man play in a basement somewhere. He delivered moving personal anecdotes on the most gaudy of stages, combining lights, camera and action to deliver a truly blockbuster comedy special.

And in The King’s Jester, he attempts to do it again. This time, however, he doesn’t let the visibly extra vibe of the whole thing slide; he acknowledges how unnecessarily over-the-top the set-up is, and describes it as ‘an LED skate park’. But he’s sugarcoating it. If the Homecoming King set looked like a Karol Bagh banquet hall, the set this time around looks like the inside of a Scientology facility. Not that I’ve ever been in one, but you can almost imagine Minhaj leasing the space out to some nice fellows for a quick ‘audit’ once he’s done with it.

The King’s Jester is so far removed from the intimate Nightclub Comedian special that Aziz Ansari put out earlier this year that it might as well be considered a different art form altogether. But even though the presentation is ostentatious — Minhaj admits to embracing his newfound ‘clout’ — the storytelling is just as personal as anything that Ansari (who Minhaj at one point says is ‘built like a laddoo’) said in his show.

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His delivery retains that easily imitable half-cry-half-laugh cadence, although this time, he appears to be trying out a new voice — a gravelly rumble that sounds an awful lot like Maurice the Hormone Monster from Big Mouth. It doesn’t always work, because he defaults to it more often than he should’ve, using it to fill in for an evil neighbour and, on several occasions, his own ego.

But The King’s Jester is at its strongest when Minhaj returns to the performance style that made Homecoming King so memorable. Few comics could transition from a harmless joke about a swol Kumail Nanjiani putting all brown people to shame to making a grand, sweeping statement about how comedy is a matter of life and death. He tells a hilarious story about how, as a teenager, he almost got arrested for making a joke about planning a terrorist attack. In front of an FBI agent. The joke saved his life, he says. But years later, similar risqué material about the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would put his family in danger.

But nothing that Minhaj says about MBS in The King’s Jester is more controversial than what he has already said about him on his show, The Patriot Act. If anything, his joke about the (now late) Queen could ruffle more feathers. And then there are the repeated digs at another ‘king’, our very own Prime Minister, whom Minhaj lists alongside a bunch of other men that I’ll leave for you to discover on your own.

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It’s almost as if he wants to deflect attention from the potentially incendiary stuff that he casually says when he declares, at the top of his lungs, that ‘Priyanka Chopra’s wedding was fake’ because nobody can marry Nick Jonas ‘unironically’.

With The King’s Jester, there’s a sense that Minhaj is buying into some of his own hype. He frequently makes references about his fame, and his borderline addiction to it. And the production, as we’ve already discussed, is hardly modest. But it’s still an excellent set that, underneath all the pomp and pageantry, is about an immigrant on a lifelong quest to fit in.

Hasan Minhaj: The King’s Jester
Director – Prashanth Venkataramanujam
Rating – 4/5

First published on: 05-10-2022 at 07:57:00 am
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