Comedian Hasan Minhaj has admitted that many of the stories about racial discrimination the late night host built his career around are not true, a new expose in the New Yorker revealed.
These fabrications include a story about a FBI informant infiltrating his Sacramento Muslim community, a white powder that was sent to his home to scare his family and that Minhaj met with the Saudi Embassy to interview crown prince Mohammed bin Salman right before the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The New Yorker confirmed these stories were partially fabricated or at the very least exaggerated.
“Every story in my style is built around a seed of truth,” Minhaj said. “My comedy Arnold Palmer is 70% emotional truth — this happened — and then 30% hyperbole, exaggeration, fiction.”
The comedian went on to say “the emotional truth is first. The factual truth is secondary.”
Though Craig Monteilh was an FBI informant in an Orange County Muslim community, he told the New Yorker he was in prison during the time period Minhaj claimed Monteilh was posing as “Brother Eric,” a figure who stands at the center of Minhaj’s Netflix special “The King’s Jester.”
Minhaj also admitted that his daughter was never exposed to white powder and wasn’t rushed to the hospital, although an envelope was sent to his apartment.
As for his meeting with the Saudi Embassy, emails show that Minhaj met with them at least a month before Khashoggi’s murder. Speaking of Saudi journalist’s murder, the ceremonial seat left for Jamal Khashoggi at the Time100 Gala — the one that Minhaj claimed Jared Kushner sat in and that Minhaj publicly criticized Kushner for sitting in — never existed.
Minhaj maintains that the “emotional truth” of these stories is accurate. Monteilh as Brother Eric may not have been real, but the comedian said he did play basketball with middle-aged men as a teenager that he and his friends suspected were informants. And though he never reported the incident to Netflix or told his staff, Minhaj said that he did receive a letter containing powder that he joked to his wife could have been anthrax. On stage and in interviews, Minhaj has portrayed this incident as a type of sinister pushback from people who do not agree with his work or politics.
A comedian embellishing his or her stories to get a bigger reaction is nothing new. But in Minhaj’s case, the presentation that these shocking stories of racial discrimination were true was a huge part of his appeal to fans. The New Yorker article includes anonymous interviews from writers and members of the research department on Netflix’s “Patriot Act” who felt uncomfortable about Minhaj’s blurring of fact and fiction.
The New Yorker cited one writer: “He tonally presents himself as a person who was always taking down the despots and dictators of the world and always speaking truth to power,” one former “Patriot Act” employee said. “That’s grating.”
A comedy writer who has worked for “The Daily Show” said that most comics’ acts wouldn’t pass a rigorous fact-check, but, if a show is built on sharing something personal that’s not necessarily laugh-out-loud funny, the invention of important details could make an audience feel justifiably cheated. “If he’s lying about real people and real events, that’s a problem,” the writer said. “So much of the appeal of those stories is, ‘This really happened.’”
Minhaj seems unconflicted by his choices, the New Yorker wrote.
“He appeared unwilling to engage with the idea that his position in the comedic landscape is unique, or that the host of a comedy news show might be held to more stringent standards of accuracy across his body of work. When it came to his stage shows, he told me, ‘the emotional truth is first. The factual truth is secondary.'”