In his own words, Hasan Minhaj is “trying to live.”
The comedian went viral in April during an appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show when he corrected host Ellen DeGeneres‘ pronunciation of his name during an interview. It’s HA-sun MIN-haj, not Ha-SAHN Mi-NAHJ, and the clip sparked a larger conversation about the double standard that exists when it comes to making an effort to correctly pronounce names of people of color vs. names of white people in Hollywood.
During a recent “Deep Cuts” episode of his Netflix show, Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, Minhaj, 34, reflected on the moment as he revealed the variations on his name he’s used while performing.
“I remember when I first started comedy, at the first open mics, there was this host,” he recalled. “You’d write your name down and he’d be like, ‘Look, man, nobody’s going to be able to pronounce this. You’ve got to change our name.'”
“So for like, two months I’d go to open mics and I was Sean,” he continued. “I kept trying to negotiate. I was like, ‘All right, Hasan — people can pronounce Hasan.’ And it just got weirder and weirder … but I’d always have that open mic host in my head: ‘You’ve got to do it to make it.'”
Minhaj explained that his parents, who are immigrants from India, drove down from their home in Sacramento, California, to attend his Ellen taping in Los Angeles. And so when DeGeneres incorrectly pronounced his name in front of the audience, emphasizing the second syllable of his first name instead of the first, he decided he had to say something.
“I looked in the audience … and [my mom] kind of cringed,” he said. “And I was like, ‘Dude, what am I doing?’ I have a show with my f—ing name on it and I’m still being like, ‘It’s with Sean!'”
“So I was like, ‘All right, Ellen, let’s just do this right now.’ Because we can pronounce Timothée Chalamet, so we’re going to do this right now,” he continued. “I just had her do it and I didn’t know it would be this viral moment or whatever.”
Interestingly, Minhaj said his dad was “super pissed” at him afterwards.
“He was like, ‘Hasan, you wasted your chance! You had seven minutes with her and for four minutes you’re correcting her, why are you doing this?'” he recalled. “And I think that’s the big difference between our generation and our parents’ generation. They’re always trying to survive.”
“Survival is the thing, so just go by whatever she calls you,” he continued. “And that’s cool, when Dad came in ’82, he survived for us. But I’m trying to live.”
“So I’m going to go on Ellen, the most American show ever, and make you hit all the syllables,” he added.
Minhaj rose to prominence as The Daily Show‘s senior correspondent from 2014 to 2018.
The comedian, who has won two Peabody Awards and two Webby Awards, also hosted the White House correspondents’ dinner in 2017.