You can argue that Hasan Minhaj is a master at working a crowd — the two-time Peabody Award winner hosted the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2017, helmed the weekly show Patriot Act from 2018 to 2020 and toured his one-man show Homecoming King nationwide before filming it as a Netflix special. But this March, he is looking to unlock new hosting skills as he emcees the Film Independent Spirit Awards for the first time. This year’s event recognizes a characteristically wide breadth of nominees: Awards-season staples are joined by smaller films that missed deserved nods from other awards bodies, like Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul and Bodies Bodies Bodies.
Ahead of the gig, THR caught up with Minhaj to discuss the nominees, what he intends to bring to the stage and the other projects he has coming up.
Was hosting the Spirit Awards an immediate “yes” for you?
[The hosts are] always so funny and iconic that when you get that call, I’m like, “I’m open. I’m there. I’ll make it happen.” Everybody that’s done [the gig] in these past few years has been so great. Some of my favorites have been the two times Aubrey Plaza has done it, Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, Patton Oswalt and Seth Rogen.
Are you able to share any teasers about how you’re making it your own so far?
I will say this: We will be using props. I don’t like prop comedy, but I’m fully leaning into the camp of the whole show, especially because it’s at 11 a.m. on the beach in a tent in Santa Monica. I’m also holding my eyelids open, like in A Clockwork Orange, to watch every [nominee]. I’m really inspired by everyone’s work and the breadth of the different types of projects that are being honored.
Obviously, they’re all worthy of admiration and respect, but do you have personal favorites?
Mo Amer is absolutely incredible in Mo, and Cate Blanchett is obviously phenomenal in Tár. I started watching Abbott Elementary, and I’m so amazed at what Quinta Brunson was able to do within the confines of linear broadcast television. I was reading an interview with her — she said broadcast is this egalitarian medium where people have it in their homes, but they’ll even play it at schools, libraries, prisons.
Chris Storer, who created The Bear, was the director of Homecoming King, so to see what he’s done with Jerrod Carmichael, Ramy Youssef, Bo Burnham and now helming his own show, and for it to get all this well-deserved praise and attention, has been so cool. I texted him, “What’s so inspiring about the show is you showed us what’s possible, how much more ground there is to cover within the genre.”
There has been plenty of drama this awards season, as with any year, like the Andrea Riseborough Oscar campaign. What’s your take on the whole conversation?
I’m working on the monologue, and one of the things we’ve been thinking about is, what is the significance of these awards shows? Why do they matter — or are they meaningless? I was writing this out, and then I was like, “Oh, they’re both.” It’s that duality. They’re a representation of what we care about in pop culture, and they’re also deeply meaningless. It’s like in The Hunger Games when they’re giving each other trophies shipped from overseas. I’ve been to the Peabodys, the Emmys, the Webbys. All of it is in a random convention center [with a set] that’s been fabricated that day and will get torn down that day.
You’re working on your first feature with your production company 186K Films, right?
We’re in preproduction right now. And look, this movie would probably not be honored at the Spirit Awards. It’s a comedy about the competitive world of collegiate Bollywood dance. The whole script is based on painfully true events. My now-wife was in it, and it’s how we fell in love. Our little Bollywood love story.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the March 1 issue of magazine. Click here to subscribe.