Comedian and former host of Netflix’s “Patriot Act” Hasan Minhaj responded in detail on Thursday to a New Yorker piece published last month that said he admitted to fabricating and embellishing stories he used in his stand-up comedy routine.
The New Yorker profile by Clare Malone sparked criticism and doubts about Minhaj’s public persona and comedy, which often focuses on social justice issues including his experiences as a Muslim and a second-generation Indian American.
Aside from a statement to Variety on Sept. 15 defending his storytelling, Minhaj remained quiet about the questions raised in the article until Thursday, when he posted a 20-minute YouTube video responding to the article, calling it “needlessly misleading.”
He began the video with an apology to fans who felt betrayed or hurt by his stand-up, reiterating that he made artistic choices to express himself and drive home larger issues affecting him and his community.
“With everything that’s happening in the world, I’m aware even talking about this now feels so trivial,” Minhaj said in the video. “But being accused of ‘faking racism’ is not trivial. It’s very serious, and it demands an explanation.”
He then delved into three stories from his comedy specials that the New Yorker article highlighted, pulling out emails and texts, recordings from the interview with the reporter and other graphics to provide more context.
The New Yorker touched on three of Minhaj’s stories, all of which are featured in his 2017 and 2022 Netflix comedy specials: one about his daughter being rushed to the hospital out of fear of a potential anthrax exposure, another about inviting a white friend to prom and experiencing racism from her family, and a story about his family’s mosque in Sacramento being infiltrated by a white undercover FBI informant named Brother Eric who pretended to convert to Islam.
The New Yorker interviewed the subjects of these stories, including the woman Minhaj invited to prom and the FBI informant, revealing that the comedian’s accounts included details that did not happen. The article also noted that Minhaj admitted to fabricating or exaggerating his stories.
For instance, in his 2017 Netflix special, “Homecoming King,” Minhaj talks about how he asked a white friend — whom he refers to by the fake name “Bethany Reed” — to prom. When he showed up at her house on prom night, Minhaj claims that her mom told him they didn’t want her going to prom with him because they didn’t want her taking pictures with a brown boy.
According to The New Yorker, the woman said she never agreed to go to prom with Minhaj and that her family was doxxed and faced death threats because of the Netflix special.
Malone also reports that while Minhaj admitted that some aspects of his stories didn’t happen, they had “emotional truth” and that each person had a different understanding of why the woman rejected Minhaj.
In his video on Thursday, Minhaj said The New Yorker left out evidence that he had provided about the stories and that the article implied that he faked racism to get back at the girl for rejecting him.
“Bethany’s mom did really say that; it was just a few days before prom, and I created the doorstep scene to drop the audience into the feeling of that moment, which I told the reporter,” he said in his YouTube rebuttal. He proceeded to play a clip from the interview in which he and Malone discussed that scene.
Minhaj also shared emails and texts between him and his white friend that he said he repeatedly offered The New Yorker, showing the friend thanking him for protecting her family from threats and doxxing and indirectly acknowledging that race was a factor in the prom rejection.
In his YouTube video, Minhaj also sought to explain why he embellished details in his comedic anecdotes about the FBI informant and the anthrax letter.
Regarding the FBI story, Minhaj says he had “altercations” with undercover law enforcement while growing up but did not detail what those altercations were about. He said he embellished the story to “recreate” the feeling of “paranoia and vindication, tension and release” experienced by Muslim communities who endured government surveillance after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
He also acknowledges embellishing the anthrax story, admitting that his daughter was never taken to the hospital but that he meant to convey the fear his family felt at that moment.
“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? Because after reading that article, I would also think that,” he said in Thursday’s video.
“The reason I feel horrible is because I’m not a psycho. But this New Yorker article definitely made me look like one. It was so needlessly misleading, not just about my stand-up, but also about me as a person. The truth is, racism, FBI surveillance and the threats to my family happened. And I said this on the record.”
In a statement posted on Thursday, The New Yorker said it stands by the story and that it contains carefully reported and fact-checked information based on interviews with more than 20 people, including former “Patriot Act” and “Daily Show” staffers, members of Minhaj’s security team and people who have been the subject of his stand-up work.
“Hasan Minhaj confirms in this video that he selectively presents information and embellishes to make a point: exactly what we reported. Our piece, which includes Minhaj’s perspective at length, was carefully reported and fact-checked,” a New Yorker spokesperson said in the statement.
“It is based on interviews with more than twenty people, including former ‘Patriot Act’ and ‘Daily Show’ staffers; members of Minhaj’s security team; and people who have been the subject of his standup work, including the former F.B.I. informant ‘Brother Eric’ and the woman at the center of his prom-rejection story. We stand by our story.”
Minhaj’s team did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment on The New Yorker’s response to his video.
CORRECTION: This story has been amended to correctly attribute a statement to The New Yorker, rather than Malone.