September 27, 2023

Hasan Minhaj

“In a new profile published by The New Yorker, comedian, former ‘Patriot Act’ host and ‘The Daily Show’ alum Hasan Minhaj admitted to fabricating details in past stand-up specials… ‘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.’” Variety

Stories that appear to be false include Minhaj claiming that an FBI informant “tried to entice [him and his friends] into talking about jihad”, that he was sent a letter filled with white powder which spilled onto his daughter, and that he was left on the doorstep by his prom date because her “parents didn’t want their daughter to take pictures with a brown boy.” New Yorker

Many on all sides criticize Minhaj, arguing that he deliberately misled audiences:

“Audiences don’t expect absurdists or surreal one-liner observational comedians like Steven Wright or the late Mitch Hedberg to hew to 100 percent accuracy… Other comedians who perform in character (or caricature) already have signaled to us that we shouldn’t take them sincerely, whether it’s the late Rodney Dangerfield claiming he got ‘no respect’ or the current Anthony Jeselnik telling jokes that make him seem like the worst human in the world… All of those lies, though, work in service of the joke. They’re intended to make you laugh more, laugh harder…

It’s completely different when you’re lying onstage for personal and professional gain… When Minhaj claims his interaction with law enforcement was what made him become a comedian, or that an imagined emergency room trip for his daughter fundamentally shifted his comedic outlook, that hyperbole makes his audience perceive and treat him differently. And that’s no laughing matter.”

Sean L. McCarthy, Daily Beast

“As comedians became political orators, the goal soon became ideological speech-making in search of clapter — clapping exaggeratedly while, as Donald Glover in 2016 explained, saying, ‘So true, yes, so, so true,’ despite the comedian not being funny. ‘They’re just clapping and laughing to be on the right side of history,’ Glover added…

“People such as Minhaj and [Whoopi] Goldberg are trying to exist within two contradictory forms of comedy. They want the freedom of old comedy, where nothing is assumed to be true and content is judged entirely on its entertainment value, and new comedy… If we’re going to build and rebuild societal structures based on the words of a comedian, then their words should be based on reality.”

Ian Haworth, Washington Examiner

“As Hasan Minhaj might put it, it doesn’t matter if the story is fake when it is ‘emotionally true’ — which is to say, when it feels like something that could have happened. Needless to say, some people object to this, not least the woman who politely declined that prom invitation as a teenager: she and her family have been receiving death threats for years thanks to Minhaj’s fabrications

“Maybe this girl didn’t do what he described, he says, and maybe what he described wasn’t done to him — but it had certainly happened sometime, to someone, somewhere… On this front, Minhaj has less in common with the comedian who embellishes a wacky story for laughs, and more in common with the TikToker who scammed her followers out of thousands of dollars to treat a cancer she didn’t have.”

Kat Rosenfield, UnHerd

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“In the thick of the post-9/11 anti-Muslim fervor that Patriot Act’s title refers to, there were hundreds of hate crimes visited upon American Muslims, Sikhs, and anyone who looked to be of Arab descent…

“[The problem when] fans defend his lies as artistic license, is that they miss the point of why Minhaj could emerge as he did: because the people he claimed to be speaking for were led to believe he really did get it on a visceral, fundamental level…

“This was a rare public figure who could be a high-profile voice for our fears, who could get people in the highest levels of society to hear and pass on his onstage and offstage anecdotes about how Trump’s Islamophobia-fueled rise affected him and his family directly, as it did ours.”

Nitish Pahwa, Slate

“Comedy has evolved, and keeps evolving, in directions that ‘it’s only a joke’ can’t quite cover. Lots of standup nowadays addresses trauma; comedians make shows about sickness and mental health, suicide and bereavement. These shows must still be funny, but they draw their charge from the understanding that the performer is telling the truth…

“[Minhaj’s] routines about anthrax attacks and Islamophobic policing weren’t offered up just for laughs. They told a tale of American prejudice and oppression, one that centred the comic himself and demanded – as Minhaj delivered his sober conclusions straight to camera – to be believed… By grounding his stories of bigotry and victimhood in a lie, Minhaj – ‘the boy who cried racist wolf’, as one headline had it – gives fuel to those who would say all such stories are exaggerated, or false.”

Brian Logan, The Guardian

From the Right

“The College Fix has documented dozens of incidents on campuses over the past few years in which alleged ‘hate crimes’ were debunked. They range anywhere from fake chalk markings threatening LGBTQ students at MIT (actually drawn by the student-body president, who wanted the ‘administration to know the tax they impose on marginalized communities’) to a black woman throwing a rock through the window of the Black Student Cultural Center at the University of Virginia…

“Whether it’s fake stories peddled by Hasan Minhaj or campus race hoaxes, the actual victims are the people who experience real racial bias. Certainly, hate crimes still exist, but every report of bias or discrimination is now met with eye-rolls and snorts because we have been fooled too many times. The people who fabricate their struggle for clicks and cash are the ones downplaying the legitimate complaints made by others.”

Christian Schneider, National Review

“Minhaj is apparently in the running to replace Trevor Noah as the host of the Daily Show. It’s clear from the story that he has no regrets and feels that as long as his stories make a socially-redeeming point then the truth really is secondary. To be clear, I don’t care if comedians are speaking the truth at all times so long as what they’re saying is funny…

“But it seems to me that being funny wasn’t the point of these concocted stories. These were about showing that Minhaj is a victim of a racist society. The fact that he had to invent or steal those anecdotes from other [people] suggests to me America isn’t quite as bad as he’d like people to believe.”

John Sexton, Hot Air

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