Hasan Minhaj takes on everything from fertility and fatherhood to freedom of speech and the “jurisprudence of jokes” in his new Netflix comedy special “The King’s Jester,” now streaming. Pentagram partner Matt Willey and team designed the visual identity and opening titles for the show, including a custom typeface, as well as the graphic system for the production.
Pentagram collaborated closely on the project with Minhaj, who wanted the special to be a visually immersive experience. He had been touring “The King’s Jester” since 2021, but with a much simpler staging and promotional graphics made by a third party. For the Netflix special, a bespoke stage by the Tony Award-winning set designer Scott Pask was built at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House. Inspired by the installations of the contemporary artist James Turrell, the stage uses light and color to create an encapsulating environment for Minhaj to exist within and interact with.
The visual identity and opening titles nod to the geometric minimalism of the set, as well as the inside-out storytelling of Minhaj’s comedic narrative. The title sequence focuses on sections of the logo as a series of abstract compositions before zooming out to reveal the full wordmark. Pentagram created a bespoke typeface for the identity, a contemporary condensed sans with sharp terminals or “barbs” on some characters that subtly allude to blackletter and the visual motif of the “jester.” The font is also used as a display typeface in the end credits and for marketing purposes.
Minhaj illustrates his monologue with images that appear on the screen behind him. The Turrell-inspired set functions less like a screen for presenting and more like an atmosphere to exist within––less informational, more emotional. The goal was to never have the backdrop feel like a screen, but rather be fully integrated into the set.
The Pentagram team worked with the production designers and video projectionists to create graphics that could plausibly exist in this special physical environment, which Minhaj humorously calls an “LED skate park” in the show. The graphic system visually ties together all of the diverse content––from still images, moving video, maps, diagrams, iconography, legal documents, to ocial media posts––while also feeling natural within the bespoke set.
For this seamless quality, the designers developed an “operating system” for the graphics that allows them to function in the space like a native digital platform. The idea of how far a jester can push a joke before “crossing the line” is a key theme of the show, and the foundational element of the OS is a graphic device the designers dubbed the “dynamic line.” This line is a beam of white light that appears on screen when needed to act as a transitional element, a constructor of graphics, a frame for windows of content, or a way to highlight pivotal information, all while also mirroring the bands of light in the stage design.
The Pentagram designers worked with a team of animators to animate each cue so it would flow with Minhaj’s monologue, changing and reacting to the points in his story. The line also serves as a border that sets off the graphics from the range of lush, saturated colors that are used expressively throughout the show and help to set the mood and punctuate the humor.