Comedian Hasan Minhaj used his speech at the TIME 100 Gala Tuesday to urge White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner to leverage his relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman win the release of Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who is currently in prison after advocating for women’s rights.
Minhaj paid homage to al-Hathloul, who was included in TIME’s 2019 list of the 100 most influential people. Seizing on reports from House Democrats that Kushner – who also attended the TIME 100 Gala – had exchanged messages on Whatapp with Bin Salman, Minhaj suggested Kushner could help al-Hathloul.
“I know there’s a lot of very powerful people here, and it would be crazy if there was a high ranking official in the White House that could Whatsapp MBS and say, ‘Hey maybe you could help that person get out of prison because they don’t deserve it,'” Minhaj said. “But hey, that person would have to be in the room. It’s just a good comedy premise.”
Minhaj told TIME after the toast that he was sincere in this request, although he could not see Kushner’s reaction during his toast. “I was just hoping he could send a WhatsApp message,” he said. “[It could say] hey, this person has been fighting for civil liberties for all people. Maybe you should let them out of prison.”
The comedian, who was the host of the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2017 and won rave reviews for his stand-up special Homecoming King the same year, is now perhaps best known for his weekly Netflix series Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, which returns for a third season in May.
In the series, the former Daily Show correspondent brings a comedic but critical eye to topics shaping the modern world, from civil rights to drug pricing. One episode, in which Minhaj criticized Saudi Arabia and its Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was famously pulled from Netflix in Saudi Arabia — which Minhaj said would only make more people watch it.
“Patriot Act is the manifestation of Hasan’s whip-smart commentary, charisma and sincerity,” Daily Show host Trevor Noah wrote of his old colleague for this year’s TIME 100 list. “It’s also a consistent reminder that Hasan is America. And America is Hasan.”
Read the full text of Minhaj’s toast here.
This is the mark over here? The mark’s over here. There we go. Oh, God. Thank you so — oh, man, I was freaking out. I had to follow — I thought I had to follow your DJ. Whoo, all right. I’m supposed to go to this camera — there we are, all right. I got to follow — I got to follow my wife.
Thank you guys so much. This is a huge honor to give a toast. All of late night’s here — what’s up, Oliver? What’s happening?
I’m really — I feel really privileged to be here. It’s unbelievable. The fact that I made the list, the sixth most popular correspondent on The Daily Show is truly — for those of you guys who don’t know, I was a correspondent on The Daily Show on Comedy Central. I know some of you guys are like, what is Comedy Central? It’s basically an internship for Netflix.
But — but, yeah, I have a Netflix show, just plugging it, just a little quick little humble brag. Yeah, I have a Netflix show. I know why I’m here. We did an episode from Saudi Arabia, if anyone from the kingdom is here, hey, I’m sorry. But yeah, yeah, yeah, after the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, I came in, I had a super hot take, I was like “Murder’s bad,” and then the kingdom didn’t like it, they pulled the episode, they banned me from The Mecca, not Madison Square Garden, there’s a place called The Mecca, it’s Muslim, you know what it is. So I can’t do that anymore.
And yeah, I want to toast tonight because people have sometimes come up to me and given me a lot of credit that I don’t deserve.They’re just like, “Man, what you did, that was the bravest thing ever. As long as you don’t die, this is the best thing that could have ever happened to your career.” And I’m like,”Man, I — I don’t want to be the Tupac of comedy. I want to live to see these retweets.
But I’m very lucky, I’m very lucky that I get to be here in America and I can make jokes about very powerful leaders, and I have the safety of being here in America. We have a lot of incredible rights here in America and safeties that we take for granted oftentimes. And there are people on the front lines that cannot be here, like Loujain Al-Hathloul, who is a Saudi activist who helped fight to lift the women’s driving ban, and she is currently in prison. She cannot be with us here tonight. She has been tortured. And a lot of times as comedians we get a lot of credit. People come up to us and they go, “Thank you so much for pointing a light on that issue,” but that’s all we’re doing, we’re pointing. And I just want to say thank you to Loujain for being the light.
This is a very — this is a very powerful room, and you know, I know there’s a lot of very powerful people here. It would be crazy if — I don’t know, if there was just like a — I don’t know, like, if there was a high-ranking official in the White House that could WhatsApp MBS and say, “Hey, maybe you could help that person get out of prison because they don’t deserve it,” but that would be crazy. That would be — that person would have to be in the room, but that’s just a good comedy premise.
Thank you guys so much. Good night.