In an article published by The New Yorker, Hasan Minhaj has admitted to fabricating stories in his comedy special The King’s Jester. Minhaj is known for his compelling storytelling through which he shares the difficulties and prejudice he has faced growing up as a Muslim Indian-American.
“Every story in my style is built around a seed of truth,” said Minhaj in The New Yorker article. “My comedy Arnold Palmer is seventy per cent emotional truth—this happened—and then thirty per cent hyperbole, exaggeration, fiction.”
One exaggerated story in The King’s Jester was about receiving a letter with white powder. The powder fell on his daughter, and Minhaj, who had feared it was anthrax (an infectious disease), rushed her to the hospital. The comedian says his work had put his marriage in jeopardy and that his wife had threatened to leave him after the incident. It turns out that although the letter and the powder are real, neither was his daughter exposed to the powder, nor was his wife threatening to leave him.
Another instance of exaggeration in The King’s Jester was about a white FBI informant who infiltrated his mosque in Sacramento in 2002, when he was a teenager. Minhaj referred to the informant as Brother Eric in the special. Over the course of the bit, Minhaj and his father identify Brother Eric—when his face appears in the news—as Craig Monteilh, an FBI agent who was reportedly tasked with becoming an informant in Muslim communities in Southern California. The New Yorker spoke with Monteilh, who confirmed that the story was a fabrication. He was in prison in 2002 and only began counterterrorism work with the FBI in 2006. This story, Minhaj says, was inspired by an experience from his younger days, when he was tackled to the ground by a man he suspected to be a cop during a friendly game of basketball.
In The King’s Jester, Minhaj also tells a story about attending a meeting at the Saudi Embassy so that he could try and arrange an interview with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The comedian claimed the Saudis were worried he would ridicule them. On returning from the meeting he was bombarded by worried messages asking if he was safe. Apparently, news had broken out that on the same day, a journalist was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The New Yorker spoke with a producer who knew about Minhaj’s schedule at the time, and who said that the comedian’s meeting at the Embassy happened at least a month prior to the journalist’s murder. Minhaj admitted to conflating timelines as “a storytelling device, to ‘make it feel the way it felt.’”
Even the main story in his 2017 special Homecoming King has been exaggerated. In this bit, Minhaj’s crush accepted his invitation to prom, but later went with another white boy. Minhaj had arrived at her house to find her with her new prom date. In the debut special, the comedian said that his crush’s family didn’t want her to take photos with him because of his skin colour. But it has also been revealed, by the woman, that certain facts were incorrect. She told The New Yorker that she had “turned down Minhaj, who was then a close friend, in person, days before the dance.” Since, she has received repeated online threats and has been subject to doxxing for years because Minhaj didn’t do enough to protect her identity in the special. The comedian did later acknowledge that the woman had in fact turned him down a few days prior to prom, but that they had different understandings of the rejection.
The New Yorker article also states that Minhaj ”could be dismissive of the fact-checking process.” When The Patriot Act was still running, he once grew frustrated because fact verification was slowing down the creative writing process and asked female researchers to leave the writers’ room. In fact, a document reviewed by The New Yorker showed that three women had threatened litigation against The Patriot Act production company and Netflix, claiming they were discriminated against based on their gender and faced sex-based harassment and retaliation.
Minhaj told The New Yorker that he didn’t believe what he was doing was manipulating his audience. “I think they are coming for the emotional roller-coaster ride. To the people that are like, ‘Yo, that is way too crazy to happen,’ I don’t care because yes, fuck yes—that’s the point.”
Minhaj has since defended his work as being based on real experiences. “All my standup stories are based on events that happened to me,” said Minhaj to Vanity Fair.