Comedian Hasan Minhaj accused of lying about his NorCal childhood

Host Hasan Minhaj speaks during the 2023 Film Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, March 4, 2023, in Santa Monica, Calif.

Kevin Winter/TNS

In Hasan Minhaj’s 2022 streaming Netflix special “The King’s Jester,” the Northern California-raised comedian spends 10 minutes recounting a story from his childhood about a white undercover FBI agent who infiltrated his Sacramento-area mosque in order to watch for — and perhaps entrap — radicalized Muslims. Muscle-bound “Brother Eric” became a part of Minhaj’s friend circle, eventually leading to Minhaj being slammed on the hood of a police car on suspicion of terrorism.

“Now, I don’t know what your junior year of high school was like, but have you ever had chicken biryani with a narc?” Minhaj jokes.

But according to a New Yorker article by Clare Malone published last week, Hasan himself doesn’t appear to have had chicken biryani with any Brother Eric. And an anecdote later in the special about his daughter opening a threatening letter filled with white powder and being rushed to the hospital also appears to be fabricated.


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“All this white powder falls into the stroller,” he said in the special. “And it falls on my daughter’s shoulder. Her neck, her cheeks. She’s staring at me. … We rush down to NYU, but this time, we go through the emergency room. And the moment they see the baby, they rip the clothes off her and take her away.”

In the New Yorker article, Minhaj admits that some of the events described are untrue. For instance, Malone found no evidence of a hospital visit. But Minhaj claims that the stories are rooted in events that did take place. The Brother Eric anecdote was inspired by a hard foul from a suspected undercover officer during a pickup basketball game, and Minhaj did receive a letter filled with powder (that was nowhere near his daughter). The timeline of an anecdote regarding a visit to a Saudi Embassy around the time of Jamal Khashoggi’s killing also appears to be fabricated.

“Every story in my style is built around a seed of truth,” Minhaj is quoted as saying in the article. “My comedy Arnold Palmer is seventy per cent emotional truth—this happened—and then thirty per cent hyperbole, exaggeration, fiction.”

According to a social media post from New York Times reporter Kellen Browning, who attended the same school as Minhaj (Davis High), Browning tried to write an article on Minhaj’s falsehoods for his high school newspaper. In an interview with the Times in 2015, Minhaj referred to the attempted reporting as a “racist witch hunt.”


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It is commonly understood that many comedians embellish anecdotes in their routines, but Minhaj has come under fire for the extent and nature of his falsehoods. In the special, these bits aren’t brief punchlines but rather long and complex stories, with Minhaj often becoming red-eyed with emotion. He has also drawn criticism regarding how his fabrications could cast doubt on real stories of prejudice.

Minhaj defended his former Netflix news commentary show “The Patriot Act” as a separate style of entertainment, rooted firmly in reported truth. However, the New Yorker article also included criticism of the work environment on the show, with three female staffers threatening litigation over alleged gender discrimination, sex-based harassment and retaliation. The news comes with added resonance, as Minhaj has become a leading candidate to replace Trevor Noah as host of “The Daily Show.”

In response to the article, Minhaj released a statement to the Hollywood Reporter:

“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,” Minhaj added. “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.”


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Read the full New Yorker article here.


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