Four disappointing revelations about Hasan Minhaj's "emotional truths"

A New Yorker profile gives a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into Minhaj's comedy, and it's not pretty

By Nardos Haile

Staff Writer

Published September 15, 2023 8:06PM (EDT)

Hasan Minhaj (Irvin Rivera/Getty Images for IMDb)
Hasan Minhaj (Irvin Rivera/Getty Images for IMDb)

Hasan Minhaj is a cool, funny guy. He is supposed to be your approachable brown comedian. His lived experiences as a Muslim American and an Asian American comic are supposed to draw us in as an audience and contextualize what xenophobia and racism look like in the life of an average, charismatic American man.

But in The New Yorker profile, Minhaj's golden-boy image is tainted by fabrications or what he calls "emotional truths" in his comedy. Basically, the comedian is not really concerned with relating faked events that he claims are true in his sets as long as the emotional truth is what is genuine and lands for the audience. Not only does the profile accuse him of fabricating stories for his stand-up specials but it addresses whisperings of a toxic and misogynistic workplace environment behind the scenes of his now-canceled Netflix commentary show "Patriot Act." This echoes the recent revelations about peer and late-night show host friend Jimmy Fallon, who is also facing backlash due to an exposé on toxic workplace culture.

Here are four of the most disappointing revelations about Hasan Minhaj's "emotional truths" profile:

Fabricating emotional truths
In Minhaj's 2022 Netflix standup special, "The King's Jester" he tells the story of an FBI informant who infiltrated his family's mosque in 2002. Minhaj paints the picture of an athletic white man named Brother Eric who converted to Islam to gain the trust of and embed himself in the Sacramento Muslim community. Minhaj supposedly had Brother Eric pegged as a fraud from the start and even told him a tale to take back to the FBI, which supposedly led Minhaj to be roughed up by the police against the hood of a car. But all of these claims were fake.
It turns out that Brother Eric was indeed an FBI informant in Muslim communities pretending to be a personal trainer. His real name was Craig Monteilh, and he told The New Yorker that Minhaj's claims aren't true. "I have no idea why he would do that," said Monteilh, who was in prison in 2002, and didn't begin to work for the FBI on counterterrorism measures until 2006. Furthermore, he said he had only worked in Southern California, not in the Sacramento area.
Another fabrication from Minhaj's comedy is one about baby anthrax. After the comedian did a reported segment on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalism — someone sent a letter to his home which was filled with white powder. He then claims the powder spilled on his young daughter and she was rushed to the hospital. While it turned out not to be anthrax, Minhaj claimed that the point was that he had received such a threat in the first place for his powerful work.
Except . . . Minhaj admitted to The New Yorker that his daughter had never been exposed to a white powder at all nor had she been hospitalized. But he insisted, "The punch line is worth the fictionalized premise."
Doxing his high school crush
In Minhaj's first stand-up special "Homecoming King," he relates a high school story of getting rejected by a white girl whom he had a crush on and who also accepted his invitation to prom but later pulled a bait and switch. When he tried to pick her up on the night of the dance, he claims she had another date because her parents didn't want their daughter to take pictures with a brown boy.
The high school crush counters his narrative though, saying that she turned down Minhaj before the dance in person, which Minhaj also confirmed. He added that the two of them "had long carried different understandings of her rejection." However, this fabrication is only part of the issue.
The woman also claimed that her family had experienced doxing for years because Minhaj failed to disguise her identity, including the she was engaged to an Indian American man in his stand-up. Allegedly, a source told The New Yorker that during the Off-Broadway performances, Minhaj used real photos of the woman and her partner with their faces blurred out . . . but insufficiently. When she confronted Minhaj about the online threats that the special brought her family, she said Minhaj ignored her concerns. He claims he doesn't recall that interaction.
Fabricating "truths" about the Saudis and Jared Kushner
Minhaj's comedy hinges on interviews with famous figures like former President Obama so it comes to no surprise he attempted to interview the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2018. Minhaj claims he attended a meeting at the Saudi Embassy in D.C. to plan a potential sit-down interview with the prince, but the Saudis told him they didn't want to be made fun of by a comedian and that they'd be watching him. Minhaj said when he was headed back home, news had broken about the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Everyone supposedly had been worried about Minhaj, knowing about his planned Saudi meeting that day.
Of course, though that was not true. A producer with access to Minhaj's schedule said that the meeting at the Saudi Embassy happened at least a month before Khashoggi's murder. Minhaj admitted that he shortened the timelines as a storytelling device to "make it feel the way it felt."
Meanwhile, Minhaj was invited to the Time 100 Gala, where he said he watched former President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner enter the room and sit in a seat that had been purposefully left empty for an imprisoned Saudi activist. The truth is that while he did criticize Kushner at the event for the Trump administration's weak response to Saudi human-rights violations, there was no ceremonial seat set aside for an activist, and therefore Kushner never was told off by Minhaj for sitting in it.
Allegations of workplace toxicity and misogyny
The most serious revelations from the profile are allegations of a toxic workplace environment from female staffers of color. There had been rumblings online after the cancellation of "Patriot Act" that the environment was potentially poor for many women who worked behind the scenes. The New Yorker reviewed a document that showed that three women had hired an attorney and threatened to sue Netflix and "Patriot Act's" production company alleging gender discrimination, sex-based harassment, and retaliation. The legal matter was settled out of court.
According to former "Patriot Act" employees, members of the research team for the show felt that Minhaj was sometimes dismissive of the fact-checking process. "[Minhaj] just assembled people around him to make him appear different and much smarter and more thoughtful," a female researcher said. "But those people — the smart people and hardworking people — were treated poorly for bringing the perspective that he is celebrated for."
In one incident, Minhaj was frustrated that the fact-checking overtook the creative aspects of the scripts. A pair of female researchers were then asked to leave the writers' room. They sat in the hall for more than an hour and listened to the meeting continue without them. Researchers were no longer allowed in the rooms for rewrites on episodes — only the male head of the research department was allowed in. Women researchers said that they felt alienated.


By Nardos Haile

Nardos Haile is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She’s previously covered all things entertainment, music, fashion and celebrity culture at The Associated Press. She resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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Comedy Hasan Minhaj List Netflix Patriot Act