- Hasan Minhaj’s background as a trusted source of political and social news puts him in a different category than typical stand-up comedians.
- Minhaj has been criticized for fabricating stories for comedic effect, including falsifying personal hardships and experiences.
- The Minhaj controversy highlights the problem of “oppression porn” and the delegitimization of real stories of oppression through the use of fabricated narratives for personal gain.
Stand-up comedy is a strange little thing. There are many people who create narratives and weave stories to convey humorous content. However, Hasan Minhaj was recently called out for making up stories for his stand-up gig, and people are upset.
But what makes Minhaj and his particular style a problem?
Trusted source of information
Hasan Minhaj is not your average comedian. In fact, whether he wants to admit it or not, he falls under the umbrella of Jon Stewart comedy. This means that due to its time The Daily Show And Patriot Actit has become a trusted source for political and social news.
This puts him in a different category than typical stand-ups. The Daily Show was viewed as space where many young people received their news, although Stewart himself stated that this could be a mistake. He was always quick to say he wasn’t a news anchor, but that didn’t stop people from seeing him that way. Minhaj is the same. He spent enough time on this show to gain the satirical talents he deserved Patriot Act show.
Patriot Act was a far more powerful reminder that marginalized groups exist and that they need to be given a voice. He had his own comedic touch, but his tone was far more serious than his own Daily Show counterparts. It was considered an important show and because of that fact and Minhaj’s tireless work, it received a Peabody Award and Minhaj an Emmy.
This is no small feat and puts him in the “trusted source” category before people even begin to consider him a real comedian.
What did he say?
The key issues that come to light come from a New Yorker interview published last Friday. In it, Minhaj talked about his love of embellishing stories with comedic effect. The direct quote was:
“Every story in my style is based on a kernel of truth. My comedy “Arnold Palmer” is 70 percent emotional truth – that’s what happened – and then 30 percent exaggeration, exaggeration, fiction.”
That’s a lot of words to say he makes things up. Many different pieces have now come out that have proven to be complete inventions. This means that unlike other comedians, he didn’t say, “You know, last night I-” when a story happened years ago. He makes up stories at the seams and sells them as actual, personal hardships.
The most famous story is one that Minhaj told on various occasions. When he spoke out against the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, he said he was either sent anthrax or something similar in the mail. He spoke of being upset because the package had been sent to his home, where he was with his daughter. It was a heartbreaking story about an Indian Muslim-American who had to explain to his young child that he had to be vigilant and that he had to protect him because there were people who wanted to hurt him.
The story has now been proven to be obviously false. This fact is a sobering wake-up call for those who see a man who not only fought in the culture wars, but almost killed for his role.
Other stories that were completely fabricated or embellished include the infiltration of his mosque and community by a white FBI informant and a girl who rejected him for the prom because of his cultural background. These stories were investigated and found to be less than his “70 percent emotional truth.”
With his trustworthy personality, Minhaj has set a precedent. He has also set boundaries for himself, whether he knows it or not. That means when he tells a poignant story, especially a personal one, people sit up and listen. They want to hear the truth from a person who comes from a marginalized group, especially one as articulately interesting as Minhaj.
However, since this story broke, many other comedians and journalists have come forward to explain the real reason why this man can’t say these things. Author Jay Caspian Kang said this about how Minhaj changed his stories:
“[They are] Another example of how stories of oppression – in this case, made-up oppression porn – are used by aspiring immigrants to advance their careers. [SIC] It is an oppressive fantasy that delegitimizes real things through elite capture.”
Many people who have experienced traumatic experiences because of their ethnic and cultural backgrounds were thrilled to have someone to represent their experiences. But Minhaj has essentially done more to delegitimize the real stories these people tell every day.
Minhaj is not just a comedian. He is a representative. This may not have been his decision, but it is very rare for those who feel oppressed to have someone to speak for them. What he did is a slap in the face to those who trusted him. He may make a case for comedy, but he has to sit back and think about the weight that comes with his stature. This scandal won’t destroy his career, nor should it, but it should lead to some serious self-reflection.