Hasan Minhaj wants everyone to see the documentary, Stand Up Planet, which features an in-depth look at comics in South Africa and India, but his reasons for wanting the public to see it have nothing to do with his own comedic endeavors (but you may recognize him from Arrested Development, as the host of MTV's Failosophy, and his viral web series The Truth with Hasan Minhaj).
"I am proud, and very lucky, to be part of this," he said. "It's not about me or Bill Cosby [an advisor to the project]. It's about the culture of comedy as a whole and global comedy needs to add pages to this book."
And what the comedians of Africa and India are adding to this book is stand-up about issues that affect their specific communities.Comedians can expose apartheid and injustice and poverty through their jokes, according to Minhaj.
"Stand up is one of those unique mediums in which as the court jester on stage we can talk about what's really happening, but at the end of the day, it's okay because it's just a joke," he said. "So we can speak the truth but are protected by the joke."
Stand Up Planet goes beyond the jokes into the lives of those telling them. Minhaj says he met comics in South Africa who could be funny talking about losing loved ones to AIDS. Beyond being funny, they're relieving tension, alleviating shame and opening people up to understand, Minhaj says.
"There's this great comic I met in South Africa, Mpho Popps, who had this amazing story about how his uncle passed away from AIDS. He tells this hilarious story about the lengths his uncle went to to cover it up from his family," he said. "But when the cameras go into the house, and you meet his grandma and see the bedroom the uncle passed away in, you're like, 'Oh, this is real.' As a comedian, it was the most enriching experience of my life. I feel so lucky to have been chosen to be a part of this."
Getting to meet Bill Cosby, was a highlight for Minhaj. Cosby explained to him how comedy can cross any borders, he said.
"One of the things Bill Cosby kept saying over and over was 'Funny is funny.' I just didn't understand that -- it seemed like the vaguest thing ever. Then I saw Loyiso Gola and he's doing references about Zulu and tribes and things totally outside my experience and you laugh, and it's like, 'Yeah, funny is funny.' There's something transcendent about comedy, much like music. There's a rhythm and pace to it. You can just tell when someone is funny."
Stand Up Planet screens as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival on Monday, April 28 at 9:15 at the Sundance Kabuki (1881 Post). Hasan Minhaj and comedian Nato Green will perform before the movie. Tickets are $10 to $15.