With all the focus on Russell Brand, it’s easy to forget that another comedian made headlines — for all the wrong reasons — last week. Two days before the world came crashing down on Brand, the New Yorker’s Clare Malone wrote a devastating piece on Hasan Minhaj.
Minhaj, according to the brilliant expose, has a history of fabricating narratives.
What’s particularly disturbing is that his tall tales all appear to have a unifying theme: race. More specifically, racism directed towards him, an Asian American and Muslim American, and his loved ones. Much of the New Yorker piece focuses on Minhaj’s 2022 Netflix standup special, The King’s Jester, which was marketed as a biographical account of his formative years. In the special, Minhaj paints a harrowing tale of a white FBI informant who infiltrated his local mosque in Sacramento some 20 years earlier, when Minhaj, now 37, was a teenager. This informant, who went by the name Brother Eric, attempted to coerce Minhaj and his friends into talking about jihad. Except this never happened, which Minhaj now readily admits. Minhai wanted to remind his audience just how dangerous it is to be a Muslim in America, and, implicitly, how white people make his and his loved ones’ lives so dangerous.
He spun another tall tale about a letter being sent to his home filled with white powder. The contents, which Minhaj assumed to be anthrax, accidentally spilled onto his daughter. Terrified, Minhaj and his wife did what any loving parents would do; they rushed their little girl to the hospital. Upon investigation, there’s no hospital record and no police record. Yet again, something that never happened, which he now admits. Hilarious, right?
When confronted by Malone, Minhaj had the audacity to suggest that they weren’t lies; they were, in fact, “emotional truths.” This is nonsense. He intentionally told these fibs not to generate laughs, but to further reinforce the narrative that America is irredeemably racist, and that non-whites must forever live their lives in a perpetual state of fear.
One might say, it’s only comedy, and Minhaj is just a comedian. Who cares?
On The View, Whoopi Goldberg passionately defended the 37-year-old’s desire to embellish, reminding her audience that comedians are in the business of making up stories. “That’s our job,” she said.
Of course, comedy involves divergent thinking and an ability to think in creative ways. And yes, sometimes the creative process results in comedians constructing far-fetched narratives. However, for years, Minhaj has positioned himself as America’s truth teller. From 2018 to 2020, he presented the Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, a show that aimed to “explore the modern cultural and political landscape with depth and sincerity.” The show certainly had depth but, on reflection, very little sincerity.
In the New Yorker piece, Minhaj was quick to separate the version of him that presented the show and the one that appears on stage, performing comedy. There is just one problem, however: His fans never got the memo. Watch an episode of the Patriot Act, then watch a few minutes of one of his specials, and see if you can notice any discernible difference between “Netflix Minhaj” and “Comedy Special Minhaj.” It’s the same guy.
As someone who has watched Minhaj for years, I can safely say that, when it comes to his comedy, laughs are in short supply. He’s more Hannah Gatsby than Hannibal Burress. He is not really a laugh out loud comedian; he is a storyteller, a supremely gifted one. But, for Minhaj, the jokes always came second to the story, and the lies.
On X (formerly Twitter), Kellen Browning, a tech reporter with the New York Times, tweeted the following, “I went to the same high school as Hasan Minhaj and tried to write a story while I was there about his exaggerations, including about a racist incident at Davis High.” Minhaj, he added, “brushed off our attempts to ask him about it.”
Hasan Minhaj is Hasan Mirage. He is, in many ways, the Jussie Smollett of comedy.
The United States, we’re constantly told by people like Minhaj and other self-appointed truth tellers, is a country defined by white supremacy and white grievance. During a recent commencement address at Howard University, President Joe Biden asked all in attendance “to stand up against the poison of white supremacy” and “to single it out as the most dangerous terrorist threat to our homeland.”
Do white supremacists exist? Of course they do. Is America defined by white supremacy? Of course not. The United States is not exceptionally racist, contrary to popular belief. To take just one example — today, 94 percent of adults now approve of interracial marriages. Ten years ago, 87 percent of the population approved of interracial marriage. Only four percent approved in the 1950s. Yes, there is more work to be done – but we have come a long way in just a few decades.
The America of today is not divided by race; it’s divided by class. As Robert Lynch, an evolutionary anthropologist, recently noted, parental income is now “the single biggest predictor of a person’s lifelong earnings. Poor white boys and poor black boys who grow up in the same neighborhood in Los Angeles, for example, are equally likely to be poor as adults.”
Which brings us back to Mr. Minhaj. Does the funnyman deserve to be “canceled” for his deceptive ways? No. He deserves a second chance. However, we should never forget the fact that his agenda always involved generating disgust and distrust, not laughs.