Heard on the Hill

Comedian Hasan Minhaj rankles, entertains at student debt hearing

Congressional hearings can be dry but not today

Things got a little testy between Rep. Sean Duffy, seen here, and Hasan Minhaj at Tuesday's hearing. (CQ Roll Call Screenshot)

You may not think a hearing on solving the $1.6 trillion student loan debt crisis would provide many laughs, but comedian Hasan Minhaj racked up a few, to the annoyance of some Republicans, while testifying before the House Financial Services Committee.

Tuesday’s hearing wasn’t short on tense exchanges, either, even from the jump.

“My name is Hasan Minhaj,” the comedian said during his opening statement. “I’m a Muslim and I condemn radical Islamic terrorism. That has nothing to do with anything but I just want that on the record.”

He also thanked ranking Republican Patrick McHenry of North Carolina for “taking the time to Google” him.

“Cute,” McHenry replied.

This wasn’t Minhaj’s first time addressing lawmakers in the Capitol. In 2017, the comedian, who stars in Netflix’s “The Patriot Act,” headlined the White House Correspondents Dinner.

But things would get especially testy when Republican Sean Duffy of Wisconsin seemed to be making a point about “smart” kids getting into better and more expensive schools.

“Would you agree that the smarter the kid, the better school they get into?” Duffy asked. “Maybe the less smart the child, the not-so-great school they get into.”

Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley, D-Mass., gasped before letting out a “Wow!” and giving an annoyed glance to her colleague and fellow “Squad” member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

The panelists pushed back on Duffy’s premise, citing statistics about children who have high test scores but go to lower ranked schools because of income.

At this point, Duffy grew frustrated that the panelists were not agreeing with him. “Here’s the deal, if you got a 20 on your ACT, you’re probably not going to Harvard.”

“Or if your mom’s Aunt Becky, you can pay your way into USC,” Minhaj shot back, referring to the pay-to-enroll admissions scandal roiling the University of Southern California. “What are we talking about here?”

“We’re both former MTV stars,” Minhaj said, alluding to Duffy’s time on the “Real World: Boston,” which launched the congressman’s celebrity profile. “I was the star of ‘Disaster Date: Season 5,’” Minhaj said.

Duffy, clearly exasperated, asked Minhaj to take the proceedings more seriously.

Minhaj, an alumnus of the Jon Stewart-era “Daily Show,” seemed to find the experience a bit surreal. While posing for pictures with members of Congress afterward, he mentioned that what he really wanted to do was use the bathroom the whole time. The 10 a.m. hearing didn’t adjourn until around 2 pm.

When asked about the exchange, Minhaj would only say that it was “interesting,” while scurrying from the bathroom to his next meeting.

While his routine seemed to play better with the Democratic side of the room, one joke landed with bipartisan chuckles.

“When I graduated, I was fortunate I didn’t have crippling student loan debt,” he said, before landing the punch line: “But I did have crippling emotional debt and Congress has done nothing to address it!”

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