Hasan Minhaj admits he’s not “the Questlove” — meaning the all-knowing poobah — of independent film. “He’s the encyclopedia of cool shit,” Minhaj says of the Roots drummer-turned-Oscar-winning filmmaker.
But Minhaj, the host of the 30th Film Independent Spirit Awards, does promise to watch every nominated movie and TV show ahead of Saturday’s festivities, which take place under a giant tent on a Santa Monica beach and stream live on IMDb.
“It is mandatory”, and the comedian Daily show And Patriotic law alum tells us in an interview ahead of the Spirit Awards. “They actually keep your eyelids open, Clockwork Orange-style.”
That is of course a joke. There are dozens of titles in contention this year, featuring the multiverse sensation and Oscar favorite Everything everywhere at once leads the way with eight categories, closely followed by the orchestral drama starring Cate Blanchett Tar with seven (also for Best Picture: Bones and all, Our Father, the Devil And Women talk).
Minhaj has seen Everything everywhere. “I was touring in Phoenix and people online said, ‘You have to see this movie because it changes everything. Whether you’re a maker or a creative person, it changes everything you think is possible about making movies.'”
The sleeper hit is favored to become the third Best Picture winner of the Spirit Awards in four years with an Asian director (or co-director in this case, as the film was directed by both Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) after Lulu Wang’s The goodbye in 2020 and Chloe Zhao’s Nomad land in 2021. It is also likely to be the second Asian-led winner of the Best Picture Oscars in three years following the Korean-made Parasite triumphed two years ago.
Between those movies and the 2018 blockbuster Crazy rich AsiansEast Asian representation in Hollywood has made great strides in recent years.
Minhaj, an Indian Muslim American raised in Northern California, often discusses his cultural heritage in his stand-up specials (Homecoming King, the king’s jester), is hopeful that a similar wave will follow for South Asians in Hollywood. The signs, he insists, are promising.
“I think we’re doing great,” he says. “I am so excited about the young crop of talent out there. I’ve watched all the shows led by South Asia and I only see these really young talented actors and actresses. Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Megan Suri [both actresses in Never Have I Ever]Imam Vellani [Ms. Marvel], there are so many of these kids that I look at and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, you’re so talented, so amazing, so funny. You are [doing] everything I wished I could have auditioned or been a part of when I first moved to Los Angeles in 2009. So I’ve seen incredible growth and I’m so excited about the possibilities of what’s to come. It’s just the beginning. That’s so cool.”
Minhaj, 37, fondly remembers the first time he felt seen by mainstream Hollywood. He attended the University of California, Davis, and entered the 2004 stoner comedy Harold and Kumar go to White Castle with Kal Penn and John Cho.
“I remember when that movie poster was half John Cho’s face, half Kal Penn’s face. And I remember leaving that movie theater that day with a friend of mine and thinking, ‘Well, that’s the last time we see two protagonists like that in a movie.’ And I didn’t know that was just the beginning. That was almost 19 years ago. But it still feels like this is the beginning… We still have a long way to go, but I’m really excited.”
Minhaj first rose to prominence as a correspondent on The daily show in 2014 – Jon Stewart’s last hire before leaving the show. “It’s the best job in comedy,” says Minhaj. But since he left that post in 2018, the comedian has moved into acting, with roles on Apple TV+’s The morning show and in movies like Rough night, The spy who dumped me and Disney is coming Haunted house redo.
This week, however, he was the latest guest host to fill in The daily show since Stewart’s replacement, Trevor Noah, left the show late last year.
Minhaj won’t say who he wants to see permanently will be the next host of Comedy Central’s nightly staple, but he’ll say how demanding the position is.
“I think anyone who takes that chair and sits down at that desk should just love and respect the institution and what it represents in the culture,” he says. “And hopefully everyone who does it throws themselves into it. I was lucky enough to work with John and Trevor and I saw up close how much effort, energy and passion that show requires. So whoever does it, I wish them nothing but the best. And I hope they do everything they can. Because it takes everything out of you. It takes everything to do that show.
The 2023 film Independent Spirits is streaming live on IMDb and YouTube Saturday, March 4 at 5 p.m. ET / 2 p.m. PT.