In a New Yorker article published Friday, comedian and former Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj—whose comedy is often based on his identity as an Indian Muslim-American—admitted to embellishing personal anecdotes that he has repeatedly shared on stage.
“Every story in my style is built around a seed of truth,” Minhaj said. “My comedy Arnold Palmer is 70 percent emotional truth—this happened—and then 30 percent hyperbole, exaggeration, fiction.”
According to reporter Clare Malone, Minhaj, who often tells a story about being mailed anthrax by a listener who was outraged by him speaking out against the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, simply made the story up. Malone also reported that Minhaj was not rejected as a high school prom date because of his race, as he tells it in one of his stand-up specials, but because the girl he asked simply wasn’t interested in him and turned him down in person. Malone tracked down his would-be date, who told her the comedian’s narrative is not accurate.
In a 2022 interview with The Daily Beast, Minhaj was asked if there was a “breaking point” for him in re-examining the consequences of being so open on stage. He replied by pointing to his anthrax story, saying, “Yeah, when my family received that package, and I don’t know who sent it, and I was with my daughter. That was just a sobering wake-up call.”
Furthermore, Malone writes that Minhaj fudged details in a story he tells about a confrontation with the Saudi government, and that he made up a story about an interaction he had as a teenager with an undercover FBI agent. According to Malone, Minhaj passes off lying about his experiences in his comedy by justifying the fabrications as “emotional truths.”
Minhaj told the New Yorker that such stories were based on “emotional truth” despite being made up, adding, “The punch line is worth the fictionalized premise.”
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter on Friday, Minhaj responded to the New Yorker piece by saying that all his stand-up stories “are based on events that happened to me. Yes, I was rejected from going to prom because of my race. Yes, a letter with powder was sent to my apartment that almost harmed my daughter. Yes, I had an interaction with law enforcement during the war on terror. Yes, I had varicocele repair surgery, so we could get pregnant. Yes, I roasted Jared Kushner to his face. I use the tools of standup comedy—hyperbole, changing names and locations, and compressing timelines to tell entertaining stories.”
But the damage has already been done; Minhaj’s peers spent Friday critiquing him by dissecting his alleged exaggerations, and, crucially, by making fun of him.
“I rolled my eyes when I first saw today’s Hasan Minhaj article because we all exaggerate and edit stories for the stage but after reading it I’m actually floored, this is psychotic behavior and it defeats the entire purpose of standup comedy,” comedian Jeremy McLellan tweeted, alongside screenshots of the anthrax anecdote.
“Hasan Minhaj lying about his kid getting sprayed with anthrax is the funniest thing he’s ever done,” comedy podcasters Haus of Decline said. “Also, it’s so funny to make a huge part of your persona about fighting Islamophobia and then you’re like ‘The freakin’ Saudis sent me anthrax cause that’s the type of shit they’re on!’”
Ultimately, Minhaj’s truth-stretching is “another example of how oppression stories—in this case fabricated oppression porn—gets leveraged by upwardly mobile immigrants to mostly advance their careers,” writer Jay Caspian Kang weighed in on Twitter. “Comedians of course have the right to make stuff up to tell a joke. You don’t actually have to have a friend who said something funny. But this is totally different—it’s oppression fantasy and it delegitimizes real stuff via elite capture.”
For more, listen to Hasan Minhaj on The Last Laugh podcast.