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Hasan Minhaj says “all my standup stories are based on events that happened to me” after a new profile in The New Yorker found that some of the details in his onstage anecdotes, like those featured in his Netflix stand-up specials, may have been made up.
Stories that The New Yorker found didn’t necessarily play out as he presented them include jokes involving one of his children and their possible exposure to anthrax and an alleged interaction with police and an FBI informant at his family’s mosque when he was a teen.
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter responding to The New Yorker story, Minhaj said, “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. 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,” he continued. “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.”
Among the material he was accused of making up was an anecdote about an FBI informant who allegedly infiltrated the Sacramento-area mosque Minhaj’s family attended in 2002, as well as claims he and his daughter were exposed to white powder in an envelope, necessitating her being taken to the hospital.
He also reportedly compressed the amount of time between an attempted interview with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2018 at the country’s embassy and the death of reporter Jamal Khashoggi, according to an unnamed Patriot Act producer and an email obtained by The New Yorker; as well as a high school rejection in a joke from his 2017 special Homecoming King, which allegedly led to a white female childhood friend, the joke’s subject, being doxxed and harassed.
“Every story in my style is built around a seed of truth,” the comedian told the magazine in response to claims he made up material for his jokes, a statement he made after the subjects of those jokes denied certain details of his recollections were true. “My comedy Arnold Palmer is seventy percent emotional truth — this happened — and then thirty percent hyperbole, exaggeration, fiction.”
The Friday story details how Craig Monteilh, the subject of Minhaj’s alleged run-in with an FBI informant as a teen, was in prison in 2002 and didn’t begin working with the FBI until 2006. He also told the magazine he had never operated in the Sacramento area. “I have no idea why he would do that,” Monteilh said in response to Minhaj’s joke about their interaction.
In his latest special, The King’s Jester, Minhaj detailed the reactions and responses to Patriot Act jokes he made about the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalism. Minhaj claimed he had received a letter to his home featuring a white powder, some of which had spilled onto his daughter, resulting in her being evaluated in a hospital.
According to The New Yorker, area hospitals nor the NYPD confirmed any record or report of the incident Minhaj describes. The outlet also claims Minhaj’s security guard at the time, Patriot Act employees tied to the show’s security team and unnamed front-desk and mailroom workers at the comedian’s former residence had no recollection of an incident like the one Minhaj shared.
The comedian ultimately reveals in the special that the substance wasn’t anthrax, and while speaking to the magazine, says that his daughter was neither exposed to a white powder nor hospitalized. The former Daily Show correspondent added that both incidents were “made up,” according to The New Yorker, but based in “emotional truth” and on differing experiences from the ones he relayed in his material.
“I think what I’m ultimately trying to do is highlight all of those stories,” he said. “Building to what I think is a pointed argument.”
The comedian also defended his comedic approach, telling the magazine that he doesn’t believe he’s manipulating audiences, that the “punch line is worth the fictionalized premise” and that he is avoiding “pointless riff” with his material, which is “grounded in truth.”
“I think [audiences] are coming for the emotional roller-coaster ride,” he continued. “To the people that are, like, ‘Yo, that is way too crazy to happen,’ I don’t care because yes, fuck yes — that’s the point.”
When asked how his approach to comedy might impact a possible hosting run on The Daily Show covering someone like Rep. George Santos, Minhaj reiterated his previous statements, telling the magazine, “the emotional truth is first. The factual truth is secondary.”
THR has reached out to The Daily Show for comment.