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The Punch Line Was a Lie: Hasan Minhaj Admits He Exaggerated, Fictionalized Some Incidents in Netflix Special ‘The King’s Jester’

The Punch Line Was a Lie: Hasan Minhaj Admits He Exaggerated, Fictionalized Some Incidents in Netflix Special ‘The King’s Jester’

  • The revelations made by The New Yorker include several anecdotes from his standup routines where he often shared harrowing experiences he’s faced as a South Asian American and a Muslim American.

Hasan Minhaj has acknowledged that he has exaggerated some of the incidents he’s included in his Netflix special, a new article in The New Yorker has revealed. The Indian American made a name with his unique style of blending autobiographical storytelling and social-justice commentary. He often shared harrowing experiences he’s faced as a South Asian American and a Muslim American, propelling him as a symbol of representation in entertainment.

In the Sept. 15 article titled “Hasan Minhaj’s Emotional Truths,” author Clare Malone shares several “embellished” stories in Minaj’s latest Netflix special, “The King’s Jester.” There are anecdotes of an FBI informant who infiltrated his family’s Sacramento-area mosque; his fallout following “Patriot Act” segments on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalism; an incident with his daughter, among others. 

But although Minhaj admitted to fictionalizing certain aspects of his routine, he told Malone that he stood by his work. “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, 30 percent hyperbole, exaggeration, fiction.”

Minhaj “came of age as a practicing Muslim in an Indian family in post-9/11 America,” The New Yorker notes, adding that his Netflix series “Patriot Act” was named for “the defining law of that era.” 

It is not clear what effect the admission will have on Minhaj’s recently announced third tour — “Off With His Head’ — which hits several cities in North America later this month. It marks his return to the tour circuit after “The King’s Jester” which came on the heels of losing his Netflix show “Patriot Act.” The tour marked his return to his “storytelling roots four years after the global success of his Netflix comedy special ‘Homecoming King,’ which garnered rave reviews and won a 2018 Peabody Award,” according to his website. This summer, the comedian tested material for the tour as part of Williamstown Theatre Festival’s reimagined season, the Times Union reported. 

Minhaj is also a leading candidate with actor Kal Penn, to host Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” to replace Trevor Noah, who left the job late last year. A former correspondent for “The Daily Show,” guest hosted from Feb. 27 to March 2, and “brought in an average of 602,000 total viewers, “according to The Wrap. He worked on the show as one of its team of faux “correspondents” between 2014 and 2018.

In The New Yorker article, Malone takes a deep dive into the untrue accounts in the 2022 Netflix standup special, “The King’s Jester.” Minhaj tells a “story” when he was a junior in high school in Davis, California in 2002. An FBI informant —  Brother Eric — described by Minhaj as “a muscle-bound white man who said he was a convert to Islam,” infiltrated his family’s Sacramento-area mosque. He went to dinner at Minhaj’s house, and even offered to teach weight training to the community’s teen-age boys. Eventually, Brother Eric tried to entice the boys into talking about jihad. Minhaj decided to mess with Brother Eric, telling him that he wanted to get his pilot’s license. Soon, the police were on the scene, slamming Minhaj against the hood of a car. He later told Malone that the story “was based on a hard foul he received during a game of pickup basketball in his youth,” when he and other teen-age Muslims played pickup games with middle-aged men whom the boys suspected were officers. 

Minaj also used the same concept when relating an incident with his daughter talking about the fallout from “Patriot Act” segments on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalism. He tells the audience how a  letter was sent to his house which was filled with white powder, he called anthrax. The contents accidentally spilled onto his young daughter. She was rushed to the hospital. The powder wasn’t anthrax, and his daughter was okay. He went to to share a conversation he had with his wife Beena after they got home. After she told hm that she was pregnant with their second child, she told him how his family has to live with the consequences of what he says on stage. “‘You get to say whatever you want onstage, and we have to live with the consequences,’ ” he recalls Beena saying. “ ‘I don’t give a shit that Time magazine thinks you’re an “influencer.” If you ever put my kids in danger again, I will leave you in a second.’ ”

Almost a year later, he admitted to Malone that his daughter had never been exposed to a white powder, and that she hadn’t been hospitalized. He told Malone of the joke he made with Been at the time wondering what if the white powder was anthrax.  He said that he’d never told anyone on the show about this letter, despite the fact that there were concerns for his security at the time and that Netflix had hired protection for Minhaj. 

Justifying his act, he insisted to Malone that though both stories were made up, they were based on “emotional truth,” adding that “the punch line is worth the fictionalized premise.” He also offered a distinction between drew his hosting duties on “Patriot Act” and his stage work. In his Netflix specials he was “allowed to create characters and events in service of storytelling, to sharpen his social points,” and focus on the “emotional truth.” But in “The Patriot Act,” his comedic license “took a back seat to the information being conveyed.” However, Malone pointed out that he “seemed to sidestep the possibility that most people likely don’t parse which Hasan Minhaj they’re watching at a given moment.”

(Top photo, ‘Off With His Head’ Poster.)

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