Today I’m interviewing Hasan Minhaj. Hasan has appeared on E!’s ‘Chelsea Lately and is a regular correspondent on Yahoo!’s OMG the 411. Hasan won Sierra Mist’s Best Comic Standing, performed at LiveNation’s Comedy Jam, the nation’s largest comedy concert and was a 2009 national finalist in NBC’s Standup for Diversity.
The internet and social media is the tool that has helped democratize the entertainment industry. Now comedians are able to create their own following through their standup and their projects. Now, if the industry ever asks, “What is your voice?” You can always prove it through your numbers. “These are the people following what I’m doing and this is why what I’m doing is relevant.”
I use the same methods as anyone else: Facebook, Twitter, a personal website. Also, the biggest thing I’ve used that a lot of comics use is the blogosphere. I really believe that having people write about what you’re doing, in any capacity on the internet is important. Google sees any site the same as a New York Times article. And if anyone is wondering what you’re doing, that’s the quickest way to find out about you. If they Google my name, an article you wrote might pop up just as high as an article the LA Times wrote about me. Giving comics and their viewers that power is an amazing tool. It can be hurtful if they hate you, but for the most part it’s an amazing tool.
2. Have you noticed the payoff yet?
Absolutely. Three years ago I built a destination website, HasanMinhaj.com. The payoffs have been tremendous. In 2007, the digital landscape was MySpace was king. A lot of people thought the destination website (YourName.com) was dead. They said, “you don’t need that. All you need is a web 2.0 site like myspace.com/YourName.” I made the move to use both destination site and MySpace because I feel that even though web 2.0 and social networking are the most popular thing right now, and will continue to be for the next few years, web 1.0, destination websites, are absolutely necessary. The payoff in investing and designing the site and putting all the content there has paid me back tremendously. In terms of people finding my content, booking me and in reality, it makes me seem a lot bigger than I really am.
I look at the internet as my digital footprint, it’s just as important as the mark you leave in real life. You can appear to be as successful and as relevant as you want to. You can’t over do it though, you can’t say “I’m the guy who invented the Nike swoosh”,“I invented the polio vaccine” or “I was on the tonight show with Johnny Carson.” But you can make yourself look real professional and put your best foot forward.. The number of comics that don’t have websites is amzing. I feel you should use your website as the aggregator of all that content. The payoff for that is tremendous.
3. Your debut album “Leaning on Expensive Cars and Getting Paid to Do It” was only released on iTunes, Amazon and other digital stores. What led to this decision?
Well my label, New Wave Dynamics is a digital distribution label. And even the people with major labels push digital downloads because it’s more convenient. The physical medium itself isn’t what it used to be. People are doing digital downloads to more efficiently consume media. That’s why I pushed it the hardest. It minimizes the number of steps people need to do to get your content. If you remember junior high, the means I had to do to get an album involved a lot of steps. I had to convince my parents to get in the car, go to Tower Records, and buy the CD. That’s 3 or 4 degrees of separation. Otherwise, I’d listen to the radio, put in a blank tape and wait all day to record the song. These days, everything is now, now, now. I’m just gonna google it, I’m not gonna wait. Digitally consuming content is the way to go until I can telepathically transport my content to people’s brains into the computer chips that they put in there.
With that said, I’ll still be selling hard copies at the show. Physically having merch in your hand will never be obsolete. I feel there’s no other alternative to that. People after your shows will almost always want to leave with a piece of what you’ve done. But in terms of blasting out to people that I physically can’t be in touch with, digital is the way to go.
4. You have a blog, do you have a set focus on it?
It’s just things I find relevant or important that I want to blog about. There’s no specific focus. It’s for “what is he thinking about? What’s on his mind?” Basically, it’s a longer form version of what Twitter is. I love Twitter, it’s a great brain dropping device that can broadcast thoughts that never make it to the stage.
5. What do you think about posting videos of your show online?
Besides sending clips to bookers, I don’t see that as beneficial, posting entire sets online. You should post clips so people have a taste of what you do. Inherently, the more successful you get, the more people will want to hoc up your entire act on the internet. As comics, we know the downfall to that. A musician can perform the same song over and over again because fans come to the shows wanting to hear the hits. When a comic performs everyone comes to the show and is like “Hey, what’s new? I’ve heard that joke.” There’s something about standup where people assume and expect that everything you’re telling them happened yesterday. Subconsciously, they know it’s an act honed over time, but they want to believe, “It’s so conversation, casual and in the moment. There’s no way he spent the past year honing this act.”
You can have a seven minute set online and little clips. I don’t think there’s value, unless you’re putting out a special, in putting out 45 minutes online. I don’t know who’s gonna watch all that material anyway, unless they’re diehard fans of what you do.
6. How do you think digital tools will change comedy?
Like I’ve said, the internet has democratized the entertainment industry. Anytime someone says something important, anyone can create and say this works or doesn’t work. Any artist can now show what they’re doing can work. The comedy business is just a business, it’s about followers and being profitable. There’s a lot of comics Bo Burnham, Angela Johnson, Russel Peters and Dane Cook that have huge digital followings. Unlike music, I see absolutely nothing wrong with spreading free digital content. In the end, we’re comics and we’re paid through our live performance. If you’re a person with an idea and a following, you can make stuff happen. Even sketch comedy like Derick Comedy and Human Giant, they’ve created content and have people appreciate it because they put it online.
I think the new casting director is a place called YouTube.com. That’s the way everything is gonna go from now. The old formula of people in suits sitting in the back of comedy clubs searching for talent doesn’t need to be done anymore. I’m just gonna go on the net and Google what I want and pluck out exactly who I need.
There’s no better time to be a comedian or an entertainer. We’re seeing a combination of two things: one, the ability and opportunity to proliferate and spread what you’re doing and two, the means to do it have become incredibly cheap. The cameras and equipment are so cheap and readily available in comparison to what they were ten years ago. Now we’re on the verge of seeing the next great Spielberg, Chapelle or Chris Rock via YouTube or the internet. Instead of an agent or manager finding them, the rest of the world will participate in the discovery.
7. How much information do you tend to share on the social networks?
Anything that won’t get me arrested.
8. What’s your weirdest online experience involving your comedy career?
I remember there was a girl who was really into my standup but I never knew what she looked like cause her profile photo was a picture of a cat. She was so supportive of my comedy but for all I knew she was just a cat. I knew it was a girl based on her name, but what you put on the internet, you can be whoever you wanna be. If your profile pic is a cat and your info says, “I love cats,” for all I know, I’m talking to a cat. I have to give her props for untagging every picture that showed she was a human or for limit everyone’s profile access to not be able to see she was a human, that’s commitment. I generally try to not talk to people who have pictures of animals or inanimate objects as their profile photo. A cat, a tiger or Michael Jackson, I don’t understand that. Why would you do that?