What to know about Hasan Minhaj, the comedian accused of fabrication

Hasan Minhaj on YouTube responding to New Yorker article. PHOTO: videograb from YouTube of October 26, 2023

Hasan Minhaj, a stand-up comedian known for “Patriot Act” and “The Daily Show,” fired back at the New Yorker this week after the magazine reported that he made up details in emotionally gripping personal stories that are a feature of his acts.

Minhaj posted a video Thursday (October 26, 2023) attempting to rebut the September profile in what he called “the most Hasan Minhaj way possible: a 20-minute deep dive with graphics and excessive hand motions.” He said the publication mischaracterized him by omitting key parts of his defense of using what he called “emotional truths.”

Following the video’s release, the New Yorker reporter who interviewed Minhaj said on social media that she stood by her fact-checked story, and she urged people to read it in full.

The allegations against Minhaj came as a shock to fans, sparking conversation about how much embellishment is considered acceptable in comedy.

Here’s what the New Yorker, Minhaj and others are saying about the scandal.

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Who is Hasan Minhaj?

Minhaj is a Peabody Award-winning stand-up comedian, writer and host who often uses his perspective as an Indian American and a Muslim to inform and elevate his comedy.

He rose to fame as a correspondent for Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” from 2014 to 2018, before hosting a Netflix comedy show for almost two years, “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj.” He also hosted the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2017 and released two stand-up comedy specials: “Homecoming King” in 2017 and “Hasan Minhaj: The King’s Jester” last year.

He was being considered as a possible replacement for Trevor Noah as the next permanent host of “The Daily Show,” which has been cycling through a schedule of guest hosts since Noah left last year. But media outlets have reported that the allegations raised by the New Yorker last month might have dashed Minhaj’s chances of being offered the gig.

What did the New Yorker accuse Hasan Minhaj of?

A Sept. 15 story titled “Hasan Minhaj’s ‘Emotional Truths'” revealed that the comedian fabricated parts of his stand-up comedy stories in pursuit of poignancy, what he called “emotional truth.”

The piece states that in his comedy special “Homecoming King,” Minhaj embellished a story about being rejected by his White date when he arrived at her doorstep on prom night. He had told his audience her parents “didn’t want their daughter to take pictures with a brown boy, because they were concerned about what their relatives might think,” the story said.

The magazine interviewed the woman and reported that “she’d turned down Minhaj, who was then a close friend, in person, days before the dance.” The story said Minhaj acknowledged that her version was correct but said the two “had long carried different understandings of her rejection.”

In “The King’s Jester,” the New Yorker reported, Minhaj told a story about a man named “Brother Eric” who was sent to spy on his Muslim community in the early 2000s as an FBI informant. Minhaj said he jokingly told Brother Eric that he wanted to get his pilot’s license and was soon slammed onto the hood of a car.

In an interview with the magazine, Minhaj said the story was based on a hard foul he received during a game of pickup basketball in his youth. “Minhaj and other teenage Muslims played pickup games with middle-aged men whom the boys suspected were officers,” the New Yorker story stated.

In the same comedy special, the comedian said that after receiving online threats for his work, he opened a letter containing what he thought was anthrax, leading him to rush his daughter to the hospital after she was exposed to the substance.

“Minhaj admitted that his daughter had never been exposed to a white powder, and that she hadn’t been hospitalized,” the New Yorker wrote. “He had opened up a letter delivered to his apartment, he said, and it had contained some sort of powder.”

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How did Hasan Minhaj respond to the New Yorker?

Minhaj released a brief statement the day the article published: “All my stand-up stories are based on events that happened to me,” he said. “I use the tools of stand-up comedy – hyperbole, changing names and locations, and compressing timelines to tell entertaining stories.”

He responded in more depth in a video rebuttal published Thursday by the Hollywood Reporter, calling the article “needlessly misleading.” The comedian said that although he introduced factual inaccuracies into some of his stories to get his point across, the New Yorker omitted and falsely represented details of those stories by ignoring evidence he provided.

Minhaj said the magazine incorrectly made it seem that he was “faking racism” in the prom story, writing that he and his date had “different understandings of her rejection.”

The comedian also provided screenshots of emails with the woman in that anecdote from 2015, in which she said her “parents have a come a long way too” after Minhaj congratulated her on her marriage to a man of color.

Regarding the fake FBI informant story, Minhaj said that while the interaction didn’t happen exactly as he told audiences, the New Yorker focused too much on Craig Monteilh, a former Muslim communities FBI informant who partially inspired the Brother Eric character and whom the comedian later acknowledged he never contacted. Minhaj said his goal was to spotlight the true stories of people such as Hamid Hayat, whose terrorism conviction after FBI agents coerced him into false confessions was overturned.

“I wanted to re-create that feeling that only Muslims felt for a broad audience,” he said.

As for the supposed anthrax scare, Minhaj said that he realized shortly after opening a letter that the white powder inside wasn’t anthrax and that the powder never touched his daughter, though the incident did prompt an argument between him and wife about their family’s safety. Embellishing the story, he said, helped him emphasize how the danger he felt he was in after he commented in “Patriot Act” on Saudi Arabia and the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“In my work as a storytelling comedian, I assumed that the lines between truth and fiction were allowed to be a bit more blurry,” Minhaj said at the end of his video. “Going forward, will I be more thoughtful about sticking to the facts in my storytelling? Absolutely.”

Clare Malone, the New Yorker writer who wrote the Minhaj profile, said on Thursday that she stood by it.

“Hasan Minhaj confirms in this video that he selectively presents information and embellishes to make a point: exactly what we reported,” she said in a statement posted to social media. “Our piece, which includes Minhaj’s perspective at length, was carefully reported and fact-checked. It is based on interviews with more than twenty people, including former ‘Patriot Act’ and ‘Daily Show’ staffers; members of Minhaj’s security team; and people who have been the subject of his stand-up work, including the former F.B.I. informant ‘Brother Eric’ and the woman at the center of his prom-rejection story.”

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Do comedians usually embellish their stories?

A public debate has ensued over whether Minhaj crossed a line in his acts, with some comedians pointing out that exaggerations are expected in stand-up comedy.

“We tell stories and we embellish them,” Whoopi Goldberg said on the View last month. “Why would we tell exactly what happened? It’s not that interesting. There’s information that we will give you as comics that will have grains of truth, but don’t take it to the bank.”

Jason Zinoman, a comedy critic for the New York Times, wrote that he initially rolled his eyes when he heard about the New Yorker story. “We’re fact-checking jokes now?” he wrote.

But after reading it, he continued, he decided that Minhaj had gone too far. “Lies involving real people should add a new sense of obligation,” he wrote. “The problem with only considering the standard of emotional truth is that it can blind you to the impact on the actual world outside your emotions.”



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