After stand-up comedian Hasan Minhaj said he fabricated routines about the racial and political injustices Muslim and Indian Americans face, some comedians and experts say he’s done a disservice to the South Asian diaspora and Muslim Americans.
Many are saying they are worried Minhaj’s fabrications could invalidate people’s accounts of actual racism and Islamophobia.
“There’s so much anti-immigrant sentiment out there. People can stereotype and say, ‘Oh, look, that South Asian comedian lied. We can’t believe anything these people say,’” said Lakshmi Srinivas, an associate professor of Asian American studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.
Others, however, understand the criticism but think the whole thing has been blown out of proportion.
The New Yorker published an in-depth interview on Friday detailing several stories and experiences that Minhaj admitted to fabricating and using in his Netflix comedy specials “Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King” and “Hasan Minhaj: The King’s Jester.”
Minhaj, who previously shared the story of his daughter’s potential exposure to anthrax after opening a hate letter addressed to him during his comedy special and in an interview with NBC News, told The New Yorker that his daughter had never been exposed to a white powder.
The outlet reported that Minhaj said the account was inspired by an interaction with his wife instead. He said he opened the envelope sent to his home and asked his wife, “What if this was anthrax?”
Minhaj also said he fabricated the story of being surveilled by a white FBI informant named Brother Eric, who began attending his mosque. Instead, the outlet wrote that he said it was inspired by a basketball game he played as a teenager, in which he and his friends suspected the white men they were playing with were law enforcement officers.
And the story of his high school crush, a white girl who rejected him moments before the prom, was not true, he said, according to the article. The fabricated anecdote, which was the central premise of his 2017 Netflix special, “Homecoming King,” ended with Minhaj learning that her family did not want their daughter to be seen with a South Asian boy.
Srinivas said Minhaj is more than just a comedian, which is why he’s facing more backlash. He shared personal stories during his specials, which he marketed as autobiographical.
“He seems to think it’s creative storytelling — that’s how he seems to present it. But he also wants to be known as someone who speaks on social justice issues and who is on the side of the oppressed,” the associate professor said.
Srinivas believes viewers and fans likely feel betrayed by Minhaj, whose stories often focus on racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia.
“He’s not just trying to entertain people. He wants to be seen as someone who’s speaking to social justice issues. He has this moral platform,” she said. “He is feeding them these stories, working up their sense of moral outrage and not giving them an inkling that they are not based on fact.”
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter after The New Yorker article was published, Minhaj said all of his stand-up stories are based on events that happened to him, but said he used the “tools of standup comedy — hyperbole, changing names and locations, and compressing timelines to tell entertaining stories,” the outlet reported.
“You wouldn’t go to a haunted house and say ‘Why are these people lying to me?’ — The point is the ride. Standup is the same,” he said, as quoted by THR.