Indian American comic Hasan Minhaj has released a 21-minute video by way of a rebuttal of an article in the New Yorker accusing him of fake racism, according to media reports.
“I’m aware that even talk about this now feels so trivial,” Minhaj says in the video first published Thursday in the Hollywood Reporter noting how the Israel-Hamas War has dominated recent news. “But being accused of fake racism is not trivial. It is very serious, and it demands an explanation.”
Minhaj asserts that he provided evidence and context to explain why he exaggerated elements in his standup comedy specials, but The New Yorker ignored it, according to NPR.
Instead, he says, its story “Hasan Minhaj’s ‘Emotional Truths’,” left the impression he had made up or exaggerated racism in his life, which Minhaj strongly denies.
He says he created the video to answer the question everyone is thinking: “Is Hasan Minhaj just a con artist who uses fake racism and Islamaphobia to advance his career? Because after reading that article, I would also think that.”
Minhaj says the article implies that race wasn’t a factor in why he was dumped by a white classmate just before they were to attend their high school prom — producing emails and text messages between them to insist he was not “needlessly cruel” to her in telling the story.
A pivotal moment in Minhaj’s standup special Homecoming King involves the comic talking about how he was dumped the night of his senior prom, with his date’s mother telling him the rest of their family wouldn’t understand prom pictures with a brown-skinned boy.
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In the video, Minhaj admits that the incident happened days before the dance, but says he was rejected because of his race. The New Yorker story said the woman “turned down Minhaj, who was then a close friend, in person, days before the dance.
Minhaj acknowledged that this was correct, but he said that the two of them had long carried different understandings of her rejection.” The story also asserts that he “shrugged off her concerns” about people discovering her identity and that that they had a strained friendship.
In response, Minhaj presents friendly texts and emails from the woman, and notes that he calls her “Bethany” on stage to protect her anonymity.
Minhaj says in his new video as cited by NPR he did have altercations with undercover law enforcement while growing up as a young Muslim man, and he was trying to communicate that experience, apologizing for adding to a dynamic where false stories about police excess can undermine real stories.
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Minhaj says someone did send him an envelope containing white powder that he opened near his daughter. But contrary to the story he tells in his 2022 special The King’s Jester, he knew right away it was not anthrax, the contents did not spill onto her and she was not rushed to the hospital.
Minhaj says he and his wife decided to keep the white powder incident secret when it happened – at a time when he was getting pushback on a controversial Patriot Act episode about Saudi Arabia — because they were worried Netflix might cancel the series.
“I am sorry for embellishing the story, if anyone was worrying about me and my family,” he says in the video.
The New Yorker story says, “Minhaj has elided or concocted other details in his stories, often to place himself more squarely at the center of the action.”
For example, in The King’s Jester special, Minhaj says he met with officials at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., as news broke that journalist Jamal Khashoggi had been murdered at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul.
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But The New Yorker quotes an unnamed producer who said the meeting took place at least a month earlier. Similarly, The New Yorker says Minhaj’s story about Jared Kushner sitting in a seat that was ceremonially kept vacant for imprisoned Saudi activists at a gala was not true.
Minhaj is quoted in The New Yorker admitting that he exaggerated both incidents, but he doesn’t address them in his new video.
Minhaj, according to NPR admits that his exaggerations often involve tough subjects like police excess, racism and Islamaphobia — issues more serious than the overstatements made by many typical standup comics. But Minhaj also insists he did not cross the line by inventing his personal experiences with racism.
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In his new video, while apologizing for some exaggerations, Minhaj also says there is a difference between how he handles factual material in political comedy shows like Patriot Act and standup specials.
“In political comedy, facts come first,” he says in the video. “In comedic storytelling, emotions come first.”