It’s mainly embellishment. Former Patriot Act host and The Daily Show alum Hasan Minhaj is acknowledging that many of the stories he has told in his comedy specials are fabricated.
“Every story in my style is built around a seed of truth,” Minhaj said in a profile in The New Yorker. “My comedy Arnold Palmer is 70% emotional truth — this happened — and then 30% hyperbole, exaggeration, fiction.”
Minhaj is a two-time Peabody Award-Winning comedian best known for his breakout Netflix special Homecoming King and his critically acclaimed, political satire show Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj for Netflix which won a Peabody, an Emmy, and a Television Academy Honor.
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“All my standup 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,” Minhaj said in a statement. “I use the tools of standup comedy—hyperbole, changing names and locations, and compressing timelines to tell entertaining stories. 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. Standup is the same.”
In his 2022 Netflix standup special The King’s Jester, Minhaj relayed a story about threats he received following Patriot Act segments on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalism. In the special, he tells the story of a letter sent to his home which was filled with white powder, which accidentally spilled onto his young daughter. Believing the powder was anthrax, the child was rushed to the hospital, and the powder turned out not to be anthrax. Later that night, he said his wife told him, “‘You get to say whatever you want onstage, and we have to live with the consequences. I don’t give a shit that Time magazine thinks you’re an “influencer.” If you ever put my kids in danger again, I will leave you in a second.’”
During the interview, Minhaj admitted that his daughter had never been exposed to a white powder, and that she hadn’t been hospitalized. He said he had opened up a letter delivered to his apartment that contained some sort of powder and he joked to his wife, saying, “Holy shit. What if this was anthrax?”
He also told a story in The King’s Jester about an FBI informant who infiltrated his family’s mosque in the Sacramento area in 2002 when Minhaj was a junior in high school. The informant, named Brother Eric, was a white man who said he was a convert to Islam and had gained the trust of the mosque community. Minhaj said Brother Eric tried to get the men of the congregation to talk about jihad, and Minhaj decided to mess with him, telling him that he wanted to get his pilot’s license. Minhaj said the police showed up and slammed him against the hood of a car. That story also turned out to be a fabrication, Minhaj told The New Yorker.
“I think what I’m ultimately trying to do is highlight all of those stories,” he told the publication. “Building to what I think is a pointed argument,” as opposed to a “pointless riff” of jokes.
While admitting the stories were fiction, Minhaj said they were based on “emotional truth,” adding “The punch line is worth the fictionalized premise.”
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