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After Retooling Because Of COVID-19, 'Patriot Act' Returns To Netflix


Like so many people, the comedian Hasan Minhaj has been working from home, which presents a couple of challenges. First, his weekly news commentary show on Netflix called "Patriot Act" is usually recorded in front of a studio audience. Second, the news he discusses is not usually all so bleak. NPR's Sam Sanders asked Minhaj how he's been retooling his show.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Right out of the gate, he confronts the awkwardness.


HASAN MINHAJ: Welcome to the "Patriot Act." I'm Hasan Minhaj. Look; I know. This is strange. You're used to seeing me in a giant studio on a glowing holodeck. Now there's nothing. But don't worry. Don't think of this as a Netflix show compromising. Think of this as a YouTube video overachieving.

SANDERS: For Volume 6 of the show, Minhaj has gone from writers' rooms and soundstages and live audiences to making an entire show from home while watching his kids, which meant my interview with him was kind of out of his control.

MINHAJ: I already talk fast. But I feel like I have to barrel through this because I have a real-life 2-year-old shot clock that's winding down with - but it's like - it's not a 24-second shot clock. It's just a nap shot clock.

SANDERS: Minhaj now does writing and filming and press and everything around his kids' schedules. One's 2. One's a newborn. It's hard, but what isn't right now? Minhaj says getting over that hurdle is manageable. But there was also an editorial challenge for this new crop of "Patriot Act" episodes. A lot of news felt like it mattered six months or a year ago. It just doesn't matter now.

MINHAJ: My focus going into this with the writers and the researchers was, hey, we've got to talk about things that are really affecting people's everyday lives, which is why our first episode out the gate was rent and evictions.

SANDERS: How the economic crisis the coronavirus pandemic has unleashed could affect housing for millions of people. Here's a clip.


MINHAJ: If you're going to shelter in place, you kind of need the shelter part. And right now, renters are way more vulnerable than homeowners.

SANDERS: There's this one point in the rental crisis episode where Minhaj flashes Marie Kondo on the green screen to make a Netflix joke. Marie Kondo, of course, is famous for decluttering people's houses, taking away everything that doesn't bring joy.


MINHAJ: Do you hear that? An illegal eviction is called a self-help eviction, which sounds like a Netflix show where you find out you don't spark any joy. Technically, it's true. If you can't pay rent, you are clutter.

SANDERS: Yeah. That's a weird joke.

MINHAJ: But the jokes have, oddly...


MINHAJ: ...Gotten weirder (laughter) and like...


MINHAJ: ...And darker because there's no groans. There's no, like, applause breaks. It's just me going right to camera. So it can...

SANDERS: So you can just say the joke, whatever it is.

MINHAJ: Yeah. It's definitely more intimate in a cool way.

SANDERS: But Minhaj has had more than jokes on his mind these days. We talked during Ramadan. Minhaj is a Muslim - not particularly devout. But he told me about how his faith has shaped him even as it's raised so many questions for him. And he made this point that also says a lot about how he approaches his work on his show, "Patriot Act."

MINHAJ: You know, the older I've gotten - this is, like, a frustration I was having. I was talking to my dad about this. And I was like, Dad, like, the more I learn about, like, the world and spirituality and faith and all that stuff, the more questions I have. And my dad said something that was, like - that was actually pretty profound. He was like - he said, don't worry about the number of questions. Just worry about, as you get older, which questions become more clear and solidified. And focus on that.

SANDERS: Good advice for faith and comedy and a whole lot more.

Sam Sanders, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sam Sanders
Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.