Courtesy of WikiMedia
Around 5:30 p.m. on April 13, passersby on Euclid Avenue could spot a line of students waiting to enter Severance Hall stretching outside the building. They were waiting in line for the University Program Board (UPB)’s annual comedy event, “Late Night with Hasan Minhaj and Special Guest Chris D’Elia,” which began at 7 p.m.
This year, unlike previous years, tickets were not sold as individual seats, but rather as general admission for different areas—orchestra or balcony. Tickets were sold both at the Severance Hall box office as well as online. Instead of rushing to buy the best tickets, students and their guests came extra early to reserve the best seats, even though doors only opened at 6:30 p.m.
By 7 p.m., the venue was packed, filled with undergraduates, graduate students and other guests. The show started with two openers.
The first was a Case Western Reserve University student: third-year student Vishnu Akella, who opened for Hasan Minhaj. Although he only performed for a short amount of time, he was well received, and the audience cheered loudly as he left the stage.
“I felt like it was my job to come out and set the tone for the rest of the night, and hopefully, I was successful at that. The crowd was electric and stayed engaged the whole time, which really allowed me to have fun up there while performing,” wrote Akella in an interview with The Observer.
“He was really relatable and funny,” said first-year student Shriya Chennuru. “A lot of people in the audience were laughing along.”
This was far from Akella’s first performance. He’s performed at comedy clubs around the Midwest, and most likely will be performing at a few comedy festivals in the near future.
“It’s been a blast being able to travel around performing and meeting a lot of great people in the process,” he said.
Akella had the chance to speak to Minhaj after his set.
“He gave me tons of invaluable advice on performing and navigating the industry as I continue on,” wrote Akella. “Since he’s someone I’ve always looked up to, having him take me under his wing and make sure I’m on the right path going forward was definitely an amazing experience. I’m looking forward to crossing paths with him again in the future and working together.”
The second opener, Michael Lenoci, has been touring with Chris D’Elia on-and-off for the past three years. Despite this, his style of comedy did not seem to sit well with the CWRU crowd, especially in comparison to Akella and the acts to come.
Then came Chris D’Elia, one of the main headliners. D’Elia is best known for his role on “Undateable,” a sitcom which ran for a couple of seasons on NBC, as well as his Netflix special, “Man on Fire.”
Different from other comedy styles, his low-brow humor still entertained the audience, as evident from the consistent laughter. For each of his distinct bits, the humor lay in the buildup rather than the punchline, keeping students laughing throughout. His own infectious chuckle and several breaks in character had everyone shaking from laughter as well. D’Elia’s jokes didn’t center on political issues or life experiences, but rather random topics, ranging from Australians to dolphins.
After performing for about half an hour, D’Elia took the chance to introduce the next comedian, Hasan Minhaj, complimenting and praising him for his hard work and success.
Audience members knew Minhaj best from his work on The Daily Show, where he is a popular correspondent. He also has a history of work with Netflix, where he released his first comedy special in the fall of 2017. He will be returning to the streaming service with a new talk show later this year.
“We’re working on concepts for it,” said Minhaj in an interview just before the show. “It’ll be launching in the fall—right around midterm time.”
Luckily, he previewed some of the material during the show. Unlike his special “Homecoming King,” in which he talked about his culture and background, this routine was more of a humorous TED talk. Minhaj injected humor into politics, interweaving the two flawlessly and effectively. The refugee crisis, travel bans, Trump’s visit to Syria, racism and even a dig at Aziz Ansari—Minhaj covered it all.
His use of an animated presentation in the background elevated his routine to new heights while providing it depth. With powerful pauses and subtle yet impactful intonation, Minhaj captivated the audience. This demeanor extended off stage, and when The Observer interviewed him, he greeted us each with a warm handshake and friendly smile.
After performing at CWRU, both Minhaj and D’Elia will move on to work on bigger projects. In addition to his upcoming show, on May 19 Minhaj will be hosting the Peabody Awards, one of which “Homecoming King” is nominated for. D’Elia has a new show in the works, this time on Youtube Red.
“It’s a show called ‘Psychopath,’” D’Elia said. “It’s still early on, so right now, I’m just doing this tour and working on other shows.”
Touring, or more specifically, stand-up, is what D’Elia loves to do most, despite his extensive experience as an actor.
“Acting, [or] the idea of it, is so awesome, but when you’re on set, it’s always boring,” D’Elia said. “I had a movie last year where I was one of the main parts, and I had two scenes that were actually big cool scenes. Otherwise, I was just walking and putting down a piece of paper, and those take hours to do. You’ve got a crowd there … but you win or lose up there as yourself. It’s nobody else’s fault.”