Let’s be frank: keeping up with today’s current events is a gargantuan task. Information around world issues, politics and society itself is often inaccessible to those who need it the most. When I say accessibility, I don’t mean accommodations for those who have disabilities (that is a whole other conversation!). I mean making knowledge and information palatable. Breaking it up into pieces that feel more like a coffee shop talk and less like a master’s thesis. The complicated web of politics, government, social issues and more is already a tough one to detangle. But not everyone has time for a complete history of voting fraud or Big Pharma through an hour-long podcast or university class. The world is asking you (or in 2020, begging you) to be engaged and informed. So where do you turn to?
Enter ‘Patriot Act’. The brainchild of stand-up comedian Hasan Minhaj, Patriot Act was an innovative talk show that focused on one topic a week that functioned like a pop-culture heavy, tongue-in-cheek standup routine for Minhaj. It was a strange concept on paper. Who wanted to see a man using Powerpoints on steroids to talk about cruise ships?
Turns out, a lot of people did. It was easy to see why. People tend to stray away from the heavy issues because they don’t know how to poke fun at it. Minhaj managed to let audiences laugh, learn and lament. He managed to do it all under 30 minutes. In today’s digital age, where entertainment had to be disseminated into Tik Tok-level time constraints, he had to be quick and he had to make it matter.
In doing so, ‘Patriot Act’ managed to be a perfect primer for a conscious citizen and consumer. It was snappy and whip-smart. It was an optical mish-mash of infographics, memes and news clips on a New York stage. It had the perfect mix of jokes, interviews, news snippets and research to keep you reeled in. Best of all, it didn’t treat you like you needed to know Economics 101 to engage with it. It didn’t coat itself in academic jargon and hoped you figured it out. Instead, it injected celebrity cameos and pop culture references for you to laugh at. The personal anecdotes and memeified graphics bookend Minhaj’s lessons, making the half hour breeze by. There are moments where you forget Minhaj is monologuing about Bolsonaro. World issues can be depressing, rightfully so, but Minhaj’s chops as a stand-up comedian elevate the show to keep audiences engaged with the issue of the week. They didn’t need to sit in their misery about the state of the world. They could laugh about it too.
A lot of Minhaj’s ideas aren’t revolutionary or particularly radical. It’s unlikely you’d find his videos circulated within Marxist circles. They did, however, serve its purpose as an intro for those who were unfamiliar. Minhaj distilled evidence of corporate greed and government corruption that was hidden in plain sight. Stories about evictions and the opioid crisis were unravelled to show not everything was what it seemed. That’s not to say his information was impossible to find for someone without a team of researchers, but it would’ve been hard to parse through everything else the world of news gives us. All you needed was a Netflix account to learn about it.
‘Patriot Act’, and by extension, Minhaj himself, didn’t just seek out to teach. They sought out to have fun. He did ASMR with taxes. He had a crossover bit with fellow South Asian Netflix star Tan France. He visited wildly popular Facebook meme groups. He did it with unabashed joy and still managed to keep the thesis of each episode tethered to all his punch ups. There was more often than not a call to action at the end of each episode. ‘Patriot Act’ wanted you to learn, but it also wanted you to know you could do something when you turned off the TV.
Minhaj use of interviews with relevant political figures around the world reeled in audiences so they didn’t have to sit through policies and interviews. He tiptoed the delicate line of talk show banter and cutthroat questions, poking at the logic of the likes of Justin Trudeau, Bernie Sanders, AOC and more. You didn’t need to sit through CNN. In fact, Patriot Act also released its episodes on Youtube, allowing anyone with Wi-Fi to keep updated.
With the cancellation of Patriot Act, it feels like Netflix lost its best teacher. Hasan Minhaj was engaging and passionate, with a self-deprecating humour only a child of immigrants can have (trust me, I know, I am one). He knew the power of knowledge was important to everyone, not just the few that could afford it. The advances of the Internet and social media have certainly opened the doors for many others to fill the gap, but the saturation of what’s out there cannot guarantee the same substance ‘Patriot Act’ brought to the small screen.
In his episode ‘How America is Causing Global Obesity’, Hasan Minhaj goes on an out of breath monologue about how the world just seems to be brimming with problem after problem. “It’s like we have 50 tabs open in our mental browsers and we’re about to crash.” He says, “Something’s gotta change! I’m not saying shut down your browser. I’m saying close a couple of tabs.” With the cancellation of ‘Patriot Act’, Netflix has decidedly chosen to close the whole browser. In 2020 of all years, it is a loss for everyone to lose a show so dedicated to the pursuit of justice and knowledge. ‘Patriot Act’ made the pursuit a little easier and a lot funnier for everyone during these strange times.