Minhaj was born in the U.S. to Muslim Indian immigrant parents, and he is known for his appearances on The Daily Show as well as his Netflix comedy series, Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj. A darling of the left for his criticism of the U.S. as a racist nation, it turns out that he hasn’t quite experienced nearly as much racism as he claims in his act.
In a recent piece for the New Yorker, writer Clare Malone explains that she spent many weeks trying to confirm some of the tales he tells on stage and was unsuccessful. During a meeting with the comedian, he admitted to her that many of the stories he shared in his Netflix specials did not, in fact, happen.
Nevertheless, he insisted that there is some truth to everything he says. “Every story in my style is built around a seed of truth,” he told Malone. “My comedy Arnold Palmer is seventy per cent emotional truth—this happened—and then thirty per cent hyperbole, exaggeration, fiction.”
However, even that may be an exaggeration. For example, Malone points to his story about an undercover white FBI informant called “Brother Eric” who he says infiltrated the mosque his family attended in Sacramento when he was a junior in high school to look out for radicalized Muslims. He devoted 10 minutes of his Netflix special to telling a story about how his friendship with Brother Eric eventually resulted in him being slammed onto the hood of a police car and suspected of terrorism.
Malone discovered that the man Minhaj is referring to never worked in the Sacramento area and was actually in prison at the time Minhaj claims the incident took place. The comedian later admitted that the anecdote was inspired by a pickup basketball game in which he and his friends speculated their white opponents were undercover law enforcement officers.
Another story Minhaj likes to tell is about the time he supposedly received an envelope containing white powder. In the rendition of the story he tells in his special, “All this white powder falls into the stroller, and it falls on my daughter’s shoulder. Her neck, her cheeks. She’s staring at me. … We rush down to NYU, but this time, we go through the emergency room. And the moment they see the baby, they rip the clothes off her and take her away.”
However, Malone reports that no area hospitals have records of this type of incident, nor does the New York Police Department or even Minhaj’s security guard. He eventually admitted to Malone that it never happened, although he says he did once get a letter containing some type of powder.
Then there’s the story of his high school crush, a white girl who supposedly rejected him just minutes before the prom because her family did not want their daughter going out with a South Asian boy. This story, which was the main premise of his Homecoming King Netflix special, was also a complete fabrication. To add insult to injury, fans of the comedian have tracked her down and have been attacking her and her family online.
University of Massachusetts, Boston, Associate Professor of Asian American Studies Lakshmi Srinivas said that these invented tales that he claimed were autobiographical could invalidate people’s legitimate accounts of racism.
“He is feeding them these stories, working up their sense of moral outrage and not giving them an inkling that they are not based on fact,” Srinivas said.
If America is really as racist as Minhaj likes to claim, he wouldn’t need to invent stories; he’d have plenty of authentic examples to draw upon. The problem here is that he presents these stories with an aura of seriousness and honesty, when the truth is that he is intentionally concocting injustices and pretending to be a victim, manipulating his audience and stirring up anti-American sentiments to pander to his liberal fan base.
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