Hasan Minhaj Films 20-Minute Fight Back Video to Say ‘I’m Not A Psycho’
“Why did The New Yorker fact check my stand-up special but not properly fact-check their own article?” asks Hasan Minhaj at minute ten of his 21-minute video essay on his own integrity — could it be, perhaps, that the culture magazine has their own special relationship with “emotional truths”?
Last month, The New Yorker published a piece that fact-checked many of the stories and claims made by former Daily Show correspondent Minhaj regarding instances of persecution and racism suffered by Minhaj in an article titled “Hasan Minhaj’s ‘Emotional Truths,’” a reference to a quote freely given by Minhaj describing his act’s casual relationship with material facts. Writer Clare Malone sat down with Minhaj to address her findings before the article hit the publication’s front page, but the portrayal of Minhaj put forth in the piece shows a defensive and excusatory comic seemingly backed into a corner by his own words. In the weeks since the article’s release, Hasan Minhaj lost his spot at the front of the line of candidates being considered to succeed Trevor Noah on The Daily Show and has had his integrity both defended and called into question by his colleagues across the industry.
Just when the dust seemed settled on Minhaj’s allegedly allegorical anthrax scares and fictionalized FBI encounters, Minhaj sent a twenty-minute, high-production value video defense of his honor to The Hollywood Reporter this week in which he denied being the “psycho” portrayed in the piece and accused Malone and The New Yorker of being “needlessly misleading.” Interesting how that’s exactly what they said of Minhaj’s work — but only Minhaj kept the receipts.
“To everyone who read that article, I want to answer the biggest question that’s probably on your mind: Is Hasan Minhaj secretly a psycho? Underneath all that pomp, is Hasan Minhaj just a con artist who uses fake racism and Islamophobia to advance his career? ” Minhaj opens his defense after a brief acknowledgement of how silly it is that, given everything happening in the world at the moment, any of us are still talking about a stand-up comedy act failing a front page news fact-check. “Because after reading that article, I would also think that.” Over the 21-minute desk defense, Minhaj broke down the three stories from his stand-up act that were most scrutinized by The New Yorker, providing full audio clips from his conversation with Malone and citing texts and emails he sent the reporter when asked to provide context for those claims.
Minhaj starts with the story from his 2017 stand-up special “Homecoming King” in which he claimed that, on the day of his high school’s prom, he was turned away on his prom date’s doorstep by her mother who said that she didn’t want her daughter taking pictures with a “brown boy.” Minhaj plays the audio from his conversation with Malone in which he explains that the incident did not, in fact, happen on prom night — the mother turned him away days before the dance for the exact reason he put forth in the special. He altered the timeline for storytelling purposes, but, he says the concerning content came directly from the truth.
In the New Yorker piece, Malone paints a much broader picture of the event, suggesting that Hasan admitted that the reason for the breakdown of the relationship between Minhaj and the pseudonymic “Bethany” was more murky and disputable than he originally stated. Malone further accused Minhaj of harassing and embarrassing Bethany years later, despite how the correspondence between the two provided by Minhaj to The New Yorker clearly showed a mutual respect and friendly relationship that continues to this day.
In “The King’s Jester,” Minhaj’s 2022 special, the comic claimed that he was harassed by an FBI informant who then assaulted Minhaj after he mocked the man for an awkward attempt to entrap him at a gym. Minhaj clarified that, while the incident didn’t occur exactly as described in his comedy special, he did have altercations with undercover law enforcement officers while growing up that inspired the basis of the anecdote. “I understand why people are upset. People face real danger at the hands of the police, and false stories can undermine real stories. And I am sorry that I added to that problem,” Minahj said in his video.
The truth is, the mosque in Minhaj’s hometown was actually infiltrated by FBI informants, and those law enforcement officers did entrap Hamid Hayat, another member of the same Muslim community in which Minhaj grew up. Minhaj says the story's intent was to draw on his own experience combined with those of others in his community and put a spotlight on the many instances that the FBI infiltrated American mosques for those who may not know that such incidents occurred with such alarming frequency. “This is not an excuse, this is an explanation of my storytelling process,” Minhaj said. He then shared a text conversation between himself and Hayat in which the latter thanked Minhaj for sharing his story and said he had nothing but love for the comic.
The New Yorker piece, however, focused on the treatment of Craig Monteilh, an FBI informant who infiltrated mosques just as Minhaj described in his special and in the most recent video. The New Yorker asked Minhaj whether he thought he owed Monteilh a “heads up” after name-dropping him in the special, to which Minhaj replied in the video, “Maybe if he gave us a heads up, I would owe him a heads up.”
Finally, Minhaj addressed the infamous anthrax incident in which he claimed onstage that he opened a mysterious letter sent to him while standing over his infant daughter, spilling white powder on her and causing Minhaj and his wife to rush their child to the hospital, only to find that it was not a deadly attack. Minhaj clarified that his family did, in fact, receive a letter containing white powder after it was reported that Netflix censored a controversial episode of The Patriot Act in which Minhaj criticized Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. “When this news broke, my life got very scary,” Minhaj explained, saying that he received daily harassment by Saudis that caused him to request heightened security detail from Netflix. “The danger at that time was palpable,” Minhaj said of the night he received the mysterious powder-bearing letter, “But Beena (Minhaj’s wife) and I decided to keep the anthrax scare private because we were worried that Netflix might shut down my show, which would have put my entire staff out of work.”
Minhaj says that the added detail of him bringing his daughter to the hospital came from a fight he and his wife had following the envelope incident in which she asked Minhaj, “What if this powder fell on our daughter?” Minhaj explained, “I created that hospital scene to put the audience in that same shock and fear me and Beena felt playing out that night.”
“I understand why people were upset by all of this. Different comedians have different expectations built into their personas,” Minhaj said of the backlash against him. “I thought that I had two different expectations built into my work: my work as a storytelling comedian and my work as a political comedian where facts always come first. That is why the fact checking on Patriot Act was extremely rigorous. The fact checking in my congressional testimony — deeply rigorous.” Minhaj even claimed, “I don’t think there is any comedian on earth who has stood in front of more data viz than me.”
“But in my work as a story-telling comedian, I assumed that the lines between truth and fiction were allowed to be a bit more blurry,” Minhaj stated, “And I totally get why a journalist would be interested in where that line sits. I just wish the reporter had been more interested in their own premise.” Minhaj challenged Malone’s methodology in exploring that tenuous relationship between stand-up comedy and the truth, saying that, if she was actually interested in interrogating that gray area, she would have fact-checked numerous comedians’ work, not just Minhaj’s, to establish a baseline for how much embellishment is expected in the medium. He also called out how Malone cherry-picked a small handful of partially fabricated stories from multiple specials without acknowledging how the overwhelming majority of anecdotes in Minhaj’s many stand-up acts are completely factual.
Finally, Minhaj addressed the infamous “emotional truths” line, providing the audio recording from the interview that shows context around the quote. In the raw audio, Minhaj explains how his audience understands that, when they see him on The Patriot Act or The Daily Show, the expectation is that factual truth comes first and comedy comes second. But in stand-up comedy, a completely different medium, that is when “emotional truth” takes priority over whatever journalistic integrity is imposed on Minhaj and no other comedian.
“Going forward, will I be more thoughtful about sticking to the facts of my storytelling? Absolutely, I have no problem with honest, good faith critique,” Minhaj said in his closing statement. “Look, the guy in this article is a proper f–ing psycho. But I now hope that you know that the real me is not.”