Hasan Minhaj

Hasan Minhaj Responds to ‘New Yorker’ Criticism

After many outlets (including ours) accuse Minhaj of fabricating stories for his comedy, he claps back with hard-to-deny details the story seemed to leave out

Hasan Minhaj

Hasan Minhaj

Hasan Minhaj is clapping back with receipts. Last September, The New Yorker wrote a condemnatory exposé about the comedian, claiming he fabricates aspects of his comedic storytelling in his Netflix stand-up specials Homecoming King and The King’s Jester. Since then, Minhaj, who built his career as a political and storytelling comic as a correspondent of The Daily Show and host and co-creator of Patriot Act, has come under intense character scrutiny. It may also have cost him the permanent gig as the new host of The Daily Show, following Trevor Noah’s departure.

While he did issue a brief statement in the wake of the article's publication, Minhaj took a “beat” and spent time processing the fallout. He has now chosen to respond in what he calls “the most Hasan Minhaj way possible: a 20-minute deep dive with graphics and excessive hand motions.”

He opens by first acknowledging, “With everything that’s happening in the world, I’m aware even talking about this now feels so trivial. But being accused of ‘faking racism’ is not trivial. It’s very serious, and it demands an explanation.” He goes on to apologize for the controversy surrounding him. “I just want to say to anyone who felt betrayed or hurt by my stand-up, I am sorry. I made artistic choices to express myself and drive home larger issues affecting me and my community, and I feel horrible that I let people down.”

In this video, Minhaj takes a magnifying glass to three specific stories from his stand-up act that drew scrutiny in The New Yorker. The first centers on his prom rejection due to racism. The second story focuses on his youth encounters with undercover law enforcement surveilling the Muslim community in his neighborhood. Lastly, he delves into an anthrax scare at his home, endangering his newborn daughter.

For the prom story, he played an audio clip of his conversation with The New Yorker writer Clare Malone and revealed supportive emails and texts. Regarding the undercover law enforcement incidents, Minhaj admitted to embellishments but stressed the genuine core experiences. He also confessed to embellishing and altering details in the anthrax story for emotional impact but affirmed the core incident's authenticity, which deeply alarmed him and his wife about their daughter's safety.

Minhaj says in the video, “My team and I repeatedly tried to give them the emails you just saw. We confirmed the emails were sent to the reporter and their fact-checker before the article came out. They knew my rejection was due to race. I confirmed it on the record and provided corroborating evidence. And yet they misled readers by excluding all of that and splicing two different quotes together to leave you thinking that I made up a racist incident.”

He makes a distinction between his work on The Daily Show, where facts were paramount for a political satire, and his own stand-up material, where he felt he had certain creative liberties. “I thought 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,” he says. 

This particular point has opened conversations around where those lines are. Something he criticizes from The New Yorker story. “I totally get why a journalist would be interested where that line sits,” he says. “I just wish the reporter had been more interested in their own premise. Someone genuinely curious about truth in stand-up wouldn’t just fact-check my specials. They would fact-check a bunch of specials. They would establish a control group, a baseline, to see how far outside the bounds I was in relation to others. They wouldn’t just cherry-pick a few stories.”

In response to Minhaj’s video, The New Yorker and writer Malone issued a statement standing by their story:

As Minhaj points out, the controversy around The New Yorker profile raises questions about comedy, storytelling, and authenticity. The conversation around comedy usually hinges on cancel culture or free speech in an ardently “politically correct” and “woke” society. This is an entirely different discussion. There is an art to storytelling and crafting compelling jokes, but where those lines are drawn deserves its own separate deep dive.

Others online have noted that Malone, a white journalist, doesn't seem to be fact-checking white comedians, questioning why Minhaj, a Muslim, Desi, person of color was singled out. An audio clip shared by Minhaj in his video spot lights an uncomfortable exchange between him and Malone.

She asks why Minhaj did not reach out to the undercover law enforcement officer from his story.

“Do you feel like you owe him anything?” she asks. He responds, “I’ve heard some things [redacted] and I’d rather not speak on that [redacted]. Doubling down, she asks, “So you feel like you don’t owe him a heads up?” Minhaj then states in his video, “As a Muslim, am I supposed to apologize to an ex-con who tried to entrap Muslims for the FBI?”

Malone’s questions there are ignorant and insensitive to Minhaj’s very real, traumatic experiences with the law enforcement officer. Any journalist ought to be able to cover a story, but that doesn’t mean they have the empathy and racial sensibility to report on someone with the tact they deserve. 

People would be wise to take a “beat” and process stories as they come. An onslaught of media outlets reported on The New Yorker piece and offered their own commentary of Minhaj’s integrity. JoySauce is guilty of this too. A trusted, prestigious publication like The New Yorker has power. With just one news piece, they can utterly alter a person’s career trajectory and character.

Whether it’s a comedian or journalist, we should be thoughtful of facts in storytelling. If you’re going to punch up or down, make sure it’s accurate. 

Published on October 26, 2023

Words by Daniel Anderson

Daniel Anderson is a disabled Chinese American adoptee based in Seattle. His freelance writing specialties include K-pop, entertainment, and food. He believes that any restaurant can be a buffet, and the key to success is to take a nap each day. Follow his adventures on Instagram @danzstan.