Comedian Hasan Minhaj has admitted that he embellished stories in past stand-up acts.
The former Patriot Act host, who has built a career around using his experiences as a Muslim American in a post-9/11 world for material, said the embellishments were rooted in "emotional truth" in an interview with The New Yorker published Friday.
In his Netflix special The King's Jester, Minhaj told a story about a white FBI informant named Brother Eric who infiltrated his family's mosque in the Sacramento area in 2002, when he was a junior in high school. He recounted that when Brother Eric tried to get some members of the congregation to talk about jihad, he began messing with him, informing Brother Eric that he intended to get a pilot's license, which later led to police arriving on the scene and slamming Minhaj onto the hood of a car.
The anecdote, the New Yorker story reported, was "based on a hard foul he received during a game of pickup basketball in his youth," during which the comedian and other teenage Muslims played against middle-aged men they presumed were officers and "one of them made a show of pushing Minhaj to the ground."
In another story from the special, Minhaj recalled receiving an envelope with white powder at his home following a Patriot Act segment on the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He thought the contents were anthrax, he explained in the special, and accidentally spilled some onto his young daughter. She was rushed to the hospital, he said, where he was informed that it was not anthrax.
Minhaj conceded that his daughter was never exposed to the powder. He did, however, receive an envelope addressed to his apartment filled with a powdery substance and joked to his wife, "Holy shit. What if this was anthrax?"
Irvin Rivera/Getty Images Hasan Minhaj
Though both stories were embellished, Minhaj said they were rooted in "emotional truth," and the broader points he was trying to make with them justified his hyperbole. "The punchline is worth the fictionalized premise," he said.
In another Netflix special, Homecoming King, Minhaj told the story of a friend, a white girl, who had accepted his invitation to the prom, only for him to arrive at her home the next day to see another boy putting a corsage on her wrist. He said her parents didn't want their daughter taking photos with a brown boy, fearing what their relatives might think. The woman disputed the story, telling The New Yorker she turned down Minhaj days before the dance. Minhaj acknowledged that was the truth but said they carried different perceptions of the rejection.
As a "brown kid in Davis, California," he'd been conditioned to "just take it, and I did," he said. "There are so many other kids who have had a similar sort of doorstep experience."
Minhaj told the outlet he stands by his work. "My comedy Arnold Palmer is 70 percent emotional truth — this happened — and then 30 percent hyperbole, exaggeration, fiction," he said, noting that he does not think he's manipulating audiences. "I think they are coming for the emotional roller-coaster ride. To the people that are, like, 'Yo, that is way too crazy to happen,' I don't care because yes, f--- yes — that's the point."
The comedian confirmed his stance in a statement to EW.
"All my stand-up stories are based on events that happened to me," Minhaj said. "I use the tools of stand-up 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. Stand-up is the same."
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