Comedian Hasan Minhaj grew up in an Indian family in post-9/11 America and became a devout Muslim. His Netflix series Patriot Act is a comedy news show modeled after The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight, named after the defining law of the era. The show won Emmy Awards and Peabody Awards during its two-year run. His stage work as a stand-up comedian has led to two comedy specials on Netflix, and Minhaj has earned praise for his blend of autobiographical storytelling and social justice commentary. He recently had a lengthy sit-down interview with Barack Obama and is a leading candidate to succeed Trevor Noah as the next host of “The Daily Show.” In 2019, Minhaj was selected time Magazine’s most influential people. “Since Donald Trump descended the golden escalator and turned immigrants and Muslims into his targets, we have needed Hassan’s voice,” Noah wrote in the accompanying article. He went on to say that Minhaj “With his astute commentary, charm and sincerity,” he was a “constant reminder that Hassan is America.” America is Hassan. “
In Minhaj’s comedic approach, he relies heavily on his own experiences as an Asian American and a Muslim American to tell harrowing tales of law enforcement entrapment and physical threats. For many of his fans, he has become the embodiment of power in entertainment. But after weeks of trying, I couldn’t corroborate some of the stories he told on stage. When we met at a comedy club in the West Village on a recent afternoon, Minhaj admitted for the first time that many of the anecdotes he told in the Netflix special were untrue. However, he said he stands by his job. “Every story in my style is built around a seed of truth,” he said. “My comedy ‘Arnold Palmer’ is seventy percent emotional truth – this happened – and then thirty percent exaggeration, exaggeration and fiction.”
In Minhaj’s 2022 Netflix stand-up special The King’s Clowns, he biographically reflects on fame, vanity, and Minhaj’s obsession with social media influence as he tells the story of an FBI informant who The story of infiltrating his family’s Sacramento-area mosque in 2002, when Minhaj was a high school junior. As Minhaj tells it, Brother Eric was a muscular white man who claimed to be a convert to Islam and had gained the trust of the mosque community. He went to Minhaj’s house for dinner and even offered to teach weight training to teenage boys in the neighborhood. But Minhaj had his sights on Brother Eric from the start. Eventually, Brother Eric tries to lure the boys into talking about jihad. Minhaj decided to piss off Brother Eric by telling him he wanted to get his pilot’s license. Soon, police arrived on the scene and knocked Minhaj against the hood of a car. Years later, while watching the news with his father, Minhaj saw the story of Craig Monteilh, who had become an FBI informant in Southern California’s Muslim community while working as a personal trainer. “Okay, okay, okay, Dad, look who this is,” Minhaj recalled telling his father. “It’s our good friend Brother Eric.”
On stage, a large screen behind Minhaj was playing news clips from Al Jazeera English’s report on Mountaire. It appears that Minhaj’s teenage hunch proved to be correct. The moment was meant to be funny, but the story underscored the threat American Muslims posed in the early days of the war on terror. Minhaj went on to recount the case of Hamid Hayat, a young man from another Sacramento-area town who spent much of his adult life in prison and, his attorney said, The confession was forced. “He just got out of prison this past June,” Minhaj said, his tone becoming defiant. “Man, he’s my age – he’s thirty-six. I think about Hamid all the time.”
Later in the special, Minhaj addressed the impact of parts of the Patriot Act on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalism. A large screen displayed threatening tweets sent to Minhaj. Most disturbingly, he recounted a letter sent to his home filled with white powder. The contents accidentally spilled on his young daughter. The child was rushed to hospital. Turns out it wasn’t anthrax, but it was a sobering reminder of the real-world consequences of Minhaj’s comedic antics. Later that night, his wife angrily told him she was pregnant with their second child. “‘You can say whatever you want on stage and we have to face the consequences,'” Minhaj recalled her saying. “‘I don’t care time Magazines consider you an “influencer.” If you put my child in danger again, I will leave you immediately. “”
Does it matter that neither of these things actually happened to Minhaj?
Before I met with Minhaj, Monte Ihe (aka “Brother Eric”) told me that Minhaj’s story was a fabrication. “I don’t know why he did it,” Montel said. Montel was imprisoned in 2002 and did not begin working on counterterrorism measures for the FBI until 2006. Details of his undercover operations are documented in a legal case that has reached the Supreme Court. Montel said he has only worked in Southern California, not the Sacramento area.
The NYPD is investigating the possible incident Bacillus anthracisThere was no record of an incident like the one Minhaj described, and there were no records from area hospitals. The front desk and mailroom employees at Minhaj’s former home don’t remember such an incident, nor do the Patriot Act employees involved in security for the show or Minhaj’s security at the time.
During our conversation, Minhaj acknowledged that his daughter had never been exposed to the white powder and had not been hospitalized. He said he opened a letter delivered to his apartment that contained some kind of powder. Minhaj said he joked with his wife, saying, “Oh my God. What if this is anthrax?” He said he never revealed the letter to anyone on the show, although there were concerns about him at the time security, and Netflix has hired protection staff for Minhaj. Minhaj said Brother Eric’s story is based on a bad foul he received during a basketball game when he was young. Minhaj and other teenage Muslims played games with middle-aged men the boys suspected were military officers. One of them made a show of pushing Minhaj to the ground. Minhaj insisted that while both stories were fabricated, they were based on “emotional truth.” The broader point is that he was trying to concoct plausible stories to make those points. “The punchline was worthy of the fictional premise,” he said.
One doesn’t necessarily come into a stand-up comedy show expecting unimpeachable truth. They expect laughs and maybe some pointed observations. Speaking on John Heilemann’s podcast earlier this year, Minhaj described his work as “a dynamic range that theater, storytelling and comedy allow you to explore.” Does that mean audiences should expect what he says on stage to adhere strictly to facts on the ground? The slyness of the memoir found a new dimension when it was played in front of a crowd for laughs.
During our meeting, Minhaj drew a firm line between his duties as host of the Patriot Act and his stage work. He said that in his Netflix special, he was allowed to create characters and events that served the storytelling to enhance his social perspective. He repeatedly told me that “emotional truth” was more important. But in Patriot Act, his comedic performance took a back seat to his message. He seemed to sidestep the possibility that most people might not be able to parse which Hasan Minhaj they were watching at a given moment.
Minhaj discussed the white powder incident in the interview but did not take the opportunity to clarify that the events he described on stage, including his daughter’s hospitalization, did not happen as described. “I remember that moment of, oh my God, sometimes the envelope gets pushed over,” he told The Daily Beast in 2022. I asked him if he felt he had manipulated the audience. “No, I don’t think I’m manipulating,” he told me. “I think they’re here to experience the emotional rollercoaster.” He continued, “And for people who are like, ‘Yo, this is crazy, it can’t be happening,’ I don’t care, because yeah, fuck, yeah — this is Point.” But given the moral weight of these things and the fact that others have actually experienced them, are his fabricated traumatic experiences of getting into trouble with children or law enforcement repugnant? “This is based on fact,” Minhaj said.
“But that didn’t happen to you,” I replied.
“I think ultimately what I want to do is highlight all of these stories,” he said. “Build what I thought was a sharp argument” rather than “pointless riffing” jokes.
Minhaj omitted or fabricated other details in his stories, often to place himself more directly at the center of the story. “I haven’t talked about it publicly,” Minhaj said in “The King’s Clown” about his 2018 attempt to interview Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudi crown prince is launching a public relations blitz in the United States, meeting with the likes of Michael Bloomberg and Oprah and holding a meeting with Minhaj at the Saudi embassy in Washington to discuss the possibility of sitting down with him. He said Minhaj’s wife did not agree with his attempts to confront the Saudis, so he hid the visit from her. (One of the themes of the special is her resistance to his authoritarian-baiting style of comedy.) On Heilemann’s podcast, Minhaj said his comedies “put my marriage through a lot, and The King’s Clown is An exploration of my marriage. Willing to take the joke.”
In the special, Minhaj described the meeting at the Saudi embassy as vaguely hostile. The Saudis said they didn’t want to be laughed at by the comedian and they would watch him. Minhaj took the train back to New York, and upon arrival, he recalls, “everyone in the office was texting me — ‘Are you okay?’ ‘Are you okay?’ “Are you watching the news? ” According to Minhaj, news had just broken that journalist Jamal Khashoggi had been murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. “Thank God you didn’t meet the Saudis,” his wife told him.