Hasan Minhaj Responds to Embellishment Allegations: “Emotional Truth Is First”

“I use the tools of stand-up comedy to tell entertaining stories,” Minhaj said in a statement. “That’s inherent to the art form. You wouldn’t go to a haunted house and say ‘Why are these people lying to me?’ — The point is the ride. Stand-up is the same.”

Hasan Minhaj Responds to Embellishment Allegations: “Emotional Truth Is First”
In a recent profile by The New Yorker, Minhaj admitted that several stories he has told in stand-up routines over the years were embellished. Photo credit: Neal Brennan

Comedian Hasan Minhaj frequently includes anecdotes about his life as a Muslim American in his stand-up act. However, a recent profile by Clare Malone at The New Yorker found that some details from these anecdotes have been embellished and fabricated. In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Minhaj came forward to say that “all my standup stories are based on events that happened to me.” This revelation has sparked discussions all across the internet on the boundaries of artistic license in comedy and the intricate interplay between humor and authenticity.

“I use the tools of stand-up comedy — hyperbole, changing names and locations and compressing timelines to tell entertaining stories,” Minhaj said in his statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “That’s inherent to the art form. You wouldn’t go to a haunted house and say ‘Why are these people lying to me?’ — The point is the ride. Stand-up is the same.”

The New Yorker found several pieces of material from Minhaj’s act that may not have played out the way he portrayed them onstage. One such story comes from his recent special, “The King's Jester” (2022), where he performed material about his daughter’s potential exposure to anthrax. During the set, Minhaj discussed reactions to “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” (2018 - 2020). Minhaj claimed that in response to jokes about Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalism and Jamal Khashoggi’s death, he received a letter containing white powder at his home, some of which spilled onto his daughter and resulted in a hospital visit.

The New Yorker's investigation, however, revealed that neither local hospitals nor the NYPD had any record of such an incident. Minhaj's security personnel, employees connected to the "Patriot Act" security team and unnamed staff at his former residence's front desk and mailroom had no recollection of such an event.

Ultimately, the punchline in the “The King’s Jester” is that the substance his daughter was exposed to wasn’t anthrax. However, while in conversation with The New Yorker, Minhaj confessed that his daughter had never been exposed to a white powder or hospitalized in the first place. He characterized these stories as "made up," albeit rooted in "emotional truth," and comprehensive of several different personal experiences from those he presented in his stand-up set. 

Several comedians, such as Whoopi Goldberg, have come forward in defense of Minhaj to agree on the matter. On a recent episode of “The View” (1997 - ), Goldberg asserted that, “That’s what [stand-up comics] do; we tell stories and we embellish them … Why would we tell exactly what happened? It ain’t 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. That’s our job — a seed of truth.”

When The New Yorker asked about claims that Minhaj made up material for his jokes, he told the magazine that, “Every story in my style is built around a seed of truth. My comedy Arnold Palmer is 70 percent emotional truth — this happened — and then thirty percent hyperbole — exaggeration, fiction.” He continued by saying, “I think what I’m ultimately trying to do is highlight all of those stories, building to … a pointed argument.”

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