Hasan Minhaj gets in the Spirit of his new gig

Hasan Minhaj (Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Bob Woodruff Foundation)
Hasan Minhaj (Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Bob Woodruff Foundation)

Hasan Minhaj may be best known for his work as a Daily Show correspondent, for his incisive comedy specials like Homecoming King, and for his Emmy-winning talk show Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj, but he’s also done his share of high-profile hosting gigs, including the unique challenge as emcee of the 2017 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Minhaj will be facing a much different audience, and considerably different expectations, when he hosts the Film Independent Spirit Awards on March 4.

The live-streamed event, which features indie stars and filmmakers gathered on the beach in Santa Monica, is one of the highlights of Hollywood’s awards season each year. Cocktails abound during the afternoon affair, which can present a challenge for the host. But Minhaj is the kind of quick-on-his-feet comedian who relishes such an atmosphere; as he hints to The A.V. Club, there will be some orchestrated chaos of his own to liven up the festivities. No stranger to mainstream Hollywood and indie cinema alike, both as an actor and producer, Minhaj also shares his thoughts on the state of indie film (he’s optimistic) and the essential silliness of award ceremonies.

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The A.V. Club: What can we expect from the Spirit Awards this year? You tweeted, “Let’s get weird.”

Hasan Minhaj: And that’s exactly what we’re going to do. Silly, goofy, irreverent. All of it.

AVC: I imagine that hosting literally anything after the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is easy. How does this compare?

HM: I think it’s going to be so much easier. It’s not an away game, it’s a home game. Everybody in the audience—for the most part, I would assume—respects, loves, and admires each other. It’s a week before the Oscars, we’re in a tent in Santa Monica, day drinking at 11 in the morning. It’s going to be way easier than hosting an event where you’re roasting the Trump administration and the WHCA and every media outlet covering the president … You can put me in any Hilton Ballroom and I can figure it out.

AVC: The Spirit Awards has a history of funny and accomplished hosts, from Sarah Silverman to Queen Latifah to Aubrey Plaza. Is an awards show gig more about walking in those footsteps or branching out on your own?

HM: Yeah, I always like to watch previous years. Just for a sense of the room, the tone, the vibe, what the audience in that room is like. And what’s been cool to see is everybody’s brought something so different to it. When Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally did it, it was so different than the way Nick Kroll and John Mulaney did it… Seth Rogen, Patton Oswald, Aubrey Plaza. So seeing everybody bring their unique self to it was really great. But some of my favorites have been—I mean, Aubrey was phenomenal and so were Kroll and Mulaney. And seeing their performances gives me the permission to be just wacky and silly and goofy and weird.

AVC: Many you just mentioned included musical numbers. Can we expect something along the lines of the fever dream that was your Morning Show number opposite Reese Witherspoon?

HM: [Laughs] No musical numbers. And I promise you, I won’t be singing, it doesn’t have to be enhanced with post-ADR. But I will give a tease: I am going to use props. There’s going to be props. Which is a departure from my usual comedic crutch, which is screens. I think props and cutaways are going to be a new part of the repertoire, in a good way.

Every 2023 SPiRiT AWARD nominee... in 90 seconds | Watch March 4 2p/5e

AVC: Speaking of cutaways, can I ask for your thoughts on Ariana DeBose’s rap at the recent BAFTA ceremony?

HM: Oh, God! [Laughs] I have a joke about it, so I can’t. I’m not going to give it away.

AVC: Do you have favorite Hollywood award show moments? And I sense I know the answer to this, but do you want unscripted, spontaneous moments? Or are you dreading a La La Land-Moonlight envelope mix-up?

HM: I say you lean into it. That’s my personal take on it. Because these award shows perfectly vacillate between deeply meaningful and absolutely meaningless. As is the discourse around it. Do you know what I mean? Like, there are UFO sightings, spy balloons, and then there will be huge New Yorker articles devoted to analysis of what happened at an award show. So that duality of meaningful and meaningless, I think is just so interesting and funny. So just lean into it. If something weird or strange happens, go with it. Funny enough, I think that the true north star of award shows is somewhere between the Nickelodeon kids award show and WWE. Like, they’ve fully embraced what it is and they’re just leaning all the way into the theatrics. And I’m like, You know what? I should embrace that. If it were to go that way, if I get slimed, so be it.

AVC: “Meaningful and meaningless” feels spot-on for award shows. I’ve joked that they’re ultimately about seeing pretty people in pretty outfits, but there’s something deeper there. These ceremonies are rituals to celebrate artists at their best, and their art is a visual medium, and they’re looking their best.

HM: Yes, completely. It’s a celebration of peacocking. Brought to you by Getty Images. And that serves, that has a deep history in society. There is a place for that … and silliness aside, at its best, it’s also a representation and celebration of people who are absolutely excellent and amazing at their craft. I’ll give you a similar analogy. Every time I tune into the Grammys and I see Kendrick Lamar, I’m like, “Oh, right. He is one of the most incredible musicians of all time.” And that is so amazing to see, you know?

AVC: So ahead of these Spirit Awards, I’m curious about your perspective on the state of indie film today, as you have this interesting overlap between Hollywood and the stand-up and talk show worlds. How would you say the industry has changed in recent years?

HM: Yeah. So I would do it two ways, micro and macro. So on the ground, as of right now, you and I are chatting, February 2023. There are larger macroeconomic economic conditions that are drastically changing the shape of the way the film industry is. That is the micro. I think from the macro, as I pull out, I look at the list of nominees and the different types of films and TV projects that are there—between Mo Amer, Quinta Brunson, the Daniels—I’m looking at these names and I’m looking at the gamut, just the spectrum of the work. I am so excited and inspired about what is currently happening, that if we were to have this conversation again in 2026, it excites me even more. I actually am, in big picture, optimistic about where things are going and how interesting and innovative the genre of filmmaking and TV making is getting. I think it’s getting even better. We’re in a tough moment! We’re in a really tough, weird, again, macroeconomic moment. But I am genuinely very optimistic about where it’s going to go.

AVC: Do you have favorites among the nominees, any you consider standouts?

HM: There’s two. Shout out to Chris Storer and The Bear. I think what Chris did, he stretched the genre and the medium. It’s a comedy that is almost such a deep psychological drama. And this being his first big series that he’s helming himself, he’s shaping it in this really interesting, amazing, unique way. And then, funny enough, you see Storer has worked with Ramy [Youssef] and Mo. You take something like that series Mo—I’ve never seen a Palestinian American dude telling the story, really, of the refugee. That really is an asylum story, and I’ve never seen an asylum comedy. That’s so cool. So it’s stuff like that where I’m like, I’m so glad you guys are getting your props, your just due credit.

AVC: I have to ask about what’s next and your film producing. What can you tell us about 186K Films?

HM: Yeah, we have our first big feature, For The Culture, at Amazon. We’re in pre-production on that, I’m really excited about that. Look, unlike the Indie Spirits and these really cool indie films, this is just a fun, collegiate, Bollywood comedy romp. It is just a good time. [Pause] Like, Cate Blanchett will not be starring in it. Although if she was, I think she’d be great! But yeah, I’m really excited, I can’t wait for the world to see it.

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