Hasan Minhaj’s “Emotional Truths” (2024)

The comedian Hasan Minhaj came of age as a practicing Muslim in an Indian family in post-9/11 America. His Netflix series, “Patriot Act”—a comedy news show in the mold of “The Daily Show” and “Last Week Tonight”—was named for the defining law of that era. The series won an Emmy and a Peabody Award during its two-year run. His stage work as a standup comic has led to two Netflix comedy specials, which have drawn plaudits for Minhaj’s blend of autobiographical storytelling and social-justice commentary. He recently conducted a lengthy sit-down interview with Barack Obama and is a leading candidate to succeed Trevor Noah as the next host of “The Daily Show.” In 2019, Minhaj was selected as one of Time magazine’s most influential people. In an accompanying article, Noah wrote, “We’ve needed Hasan’s voice since Donald Trump came down that golden escalator and turned immigrants and Muslims into his targets.” Minhaj’s “whip-smart commentary, charisma and sincerity,” he went on, was “a consistent reminder that Hasan is America. And America is Hasan.”

In Minhaj’s approach to comedy, he leans heavily on his own experience as an Asian American and Muslim American, telling harrowing stories of law-enforcement entrapment and personal threats. For many of his fans, he has become an avatar for the power of representation in entertainment. But, after many weeks of trying, I had been unable to confirm some of the stories that he had told onstage. When we met on a recent afternoon, at a comedy club in the West Village, Minhaj acknowledged, for the first time, that many of the anecdotes he related in his Netflix specials were untrue. Still, he said that he stood by his work. “Every story in my style is built around a seed of truth,” he said. “My comedy Arnold Palmer is seventy per cent emotional truth—this happened—and then thirty per cent hyperbole, exaggeration, fiction.”

In Minhaj’s 2022 Netflix standup special, “The King’s Jester”—a biographical reflection on fame, vainglory, and Minhaj’s obsession with social-media clout—he relays a story about an F.B.I. informant who infiltrated his family’s Sacramento-area mosque, in 2002, when Minhaj was a junior in high school. As Minhaj tells it, Brother Eric, a muscle-bound white man who said he was a convert to Islam, gained the trust of the mosque community. He went to dinner at Minhaj’s house, and even offered to teach weight training to the community’s teen-age boys. But Minhaj had Brother Eric pegged from the beginning. Eventually, Brother Eric tried to entice the boys into talking about jihad. Minhaj decided to mess with Brother Eric, telling him that he wanted to get his pilot’s license. Soon, the police were on the scene, slamming Minhaj against the hood of a car. Years later, while watching the news with his father, Minhaj saw a story about Craig Monteilh, who assumed the cover of a personal trainer when he became an F.B.I. informant in Muslim communities in Southern California. “Well, well, well, Papa, look who it is,” Minhaj recalls telling his father. “It’s our good friend Brother Eric.”

Onstage, a large screen behind Minhaj flashes news footage from an Al Jazeera English report on Monteilh. Minhaj’s teen-age hunch, it seems, was proved right. The moment is played for laughs, but the story underscores the threat that being Muslim in the United States carried during the early days of the war on terror. Minhaj segues to the case of Hamid Hayat, a young man from another Sacramento-area town who spent much of his adult life in prison based on a confession his attorneys say was coerced. “He just got out of prison this past June,” Minhaj says, his tone turning defiant. “Man, he’s my age—he’s thirty-six. I think about Hamid all the time.”

Later in the special, Minhaj speaks about the fallout from “Patriot Act” segments on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalism. The big screen displays threatening tweets that were sent to Minhaj. Most disturbing, he tells the story of a letter sent to his home which was filled with white powder. The contents accidentally spilled onto his young daughter. The child was rushed to the hospital. It turned out not to be anthrax, but it’s a sobering reminder that Minhaj’s comedic actions have real-world consequences. Later that night, his wife, in a fury, told him that she was pregnant with their second child. “‘You get to say whatever you want onstage, and we have to live with the consequences,’” Minhaj recalls her saying. “‘I don’t give a sh*t that Time magazine thinks you’re an “influencer.” If you ever put my kids in danger again, I will leave you in a second.’”

Does it matter that neither of those things really happened to Minhaj?

Prior to my meeting with Minhaj, Monteilh, a.k.a. “Brother Eric,” had told me that Minhaj’s story is a fabrication. “I have no idea why he would do that,” Monteilh said. Monteilh was in prison in 2002, and didn’t begin to work for the F.B.I. on counterterrorism measures until 2006. Details of his undercover actions were catalogued in a legal case that has made its way to the Supreme Court. Monteilh said that he’d worked only in Southern California, not the Sacramento area.

The New York Police Department, which investigates incidents of possible Bacillus anthracis, has no record of an incident like the one Minhaj describes, nor do area hospitals. Front-desk and mailroom employees at Minhaj’s former residence don’t remember such an incident, nor do “Patriot Act” employees involved with the show’s security or Minhaj’s security guard from the time.

During our conversation, Minhaj admitted that his daughter had never been exposed to a white powder, and that she hadn’t been hospitalized. He had opened up a letter delivered to his apartment, he said, and it had contained some sort of powder. Minhaj said that he had made a joke to his wife, saying, “Holy sh*t. What if this was anthrax?” He said that he’d never told anyone on the show about this letter, despite the fact that there were concerns for his security at the time and that Netflix had hired protection for Minhaj. The Brother Eric story, Minhaj said, was based on a hard foul he received during a game of pickup basketball in his youth. Minhaj and other teen-age Muslims played pickup games with middle-aged men whom the boys suspected were officers. One made a show of pushing Minhaj to the ground. Minhaj insisted that, though both stories were made up, they were based on “emotional truth.” The broader points he was trying to make justified concocting stories in which to deliver them. “The punch line is worth the fictionalized premise,” he said.

People don’t necessarily go into standup shows expecting airtight truths. They expect laughs, perhaps some trenchant observation. On John Heilemann’s podcast earlier this year, Minhaj described his work as “the dynamic range that theatre and storytelling and comedy allow you to explore.” Does that mean audiences should expect his words onstage to stringently hew to the facts on the ground? The slipperiness of memoir finds a new dimension when it’s played for laughs in front of a crowd.

During our meeting, Minhaj drew a hard line between his hosting duties on “Patriot Act” and his stage work. In his Netflix specials, he said, he was allowed to create characters and events in service of storytelling, to sharpen his social points. The “emotional truth,” he told me, repeatedly, was more important. But in “Patriot Act,” his comedic license took a back seat to the information being conveyed. He seemed to sidestep the possibility that most people likely don’t parse which Hasan Minhaj they’re watching at a given moment.

Minhaj has discussed the white-powder incident in interviews, without taking the opportunity to clarify that the events he describes onstage, including his daughter’s hospitalization, didn’t happen as told. “I remember in that moment going, oh sh*t, sometimes the envelope pushes back,” he told the Daily Beast, in 2022. I asked him if he felt that he had manipulated his audience. “No, I don’t think I’m manipulating,” he told me. “I think they are coming for the emotional roller-coaster ride.” He went on, “To the people that are, like, ‘Yo, that is way too crazy to happen,’ I don’t care because yes, f*ck yes—that’s the point.” But was his invention of a traumatic experience with his child or with law-enforcement entrapment distasteful, given the moral heft of those things, and the fact that other people have actually experienced them? “It’s grounded in truth,” Minhaj said.

“But it didn’t happen to you,” I replied.

“I think what I’m ultimately trying to do is highlight all of those stories,” he said. “Building to what I think is a pointed argument,” as opposed to a “pointless riff” of jokes.

Minhaj has elided or concocted other details in his stories, often to place himself more squarely at the center of the action. “I haven’t talked about this publicly,” Minhaj says in “The King’s Jester,” about his attempt to interview Mohammed bin Salman in 2018. The Saudi crown prince was doing a U.S. public-relations blitz, meeting with Michael Bloomberg and Oprah, among others, and Minhaj set up a meeting at the Saudi Embassy in D.C. to discuss the prospect of a sit-down with him. Minhaj’s wife, he says, disapproved of his attempts to antagonize the Saudis, so he hid the visit from her. (A theme of the special is her resistance to his despot-baiting comedy stylings.) On Heilemann’s podcast, Minhaj said that his comedy “put my marriage through a lot, and ‘The King’s Jester’ is an exploration of how far I’m willing to take a joke.”

During the special, Minhaj describes the meeting at the Saudi Embassy as vaguely hostile. The Saudis said that they didn’t want to be ridiculed by a comedian and that they’d be watching him. Minhaj took a train back to New York, where, upon arrival, he recalls, “everybody at the office is texting me—‘Are you O.K.?’ ‘Are you all right?’ ‘Are you watching the news?’” According to Minhaj, news had just broken about the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. “Thank God you didn’t meet with the Saudis,” his wife told him.

Hasan Minhaj’s “Emotional Truths” (2024)


What is off with his head about Hasan Minhaj? ›

His third live comedy special, Hasan Minhaj: Off With his Head, tackles subject matter familiar to his fans, including life as a South Asian American and dealing with immigrant parents.

How much does Hasan Minhaj make per show? ›

An example fee to book Hasan Minhaj is in the starting range of $150,000-$299,000. However, any recent popularity change would cause a price fluctuation well beyond this example. Also, their speaking fee might be different than the fee shown for the cost to perform or to just appear.

What does Hasan Minhaj's sister do? ›

Who is Hasan Minhaj's wife? ›

Did Hasan Minhaj have fertility issues? ›

After his wife convinced him to go to a fertility clinic, it was determined the issue was with his fertility rather than hers. Minhaj underwent a varicocele repair procedure, after discovering there was too much blood in his scrotum. The couple was able to have two children.

What is Hasan Minhaj religion? ›

The comedian Hasan Minhaj came of age as a practicing Muslim in an Indian family in post-9/11 America. His Netflix series, “Patriot Act”—a comedy news show in the mold of “The Daily Show” and “Last Week Tonight”—was named for the defining law of that era.

How much is Jimmy Fallon paid? ›

How much does Jimmy Fallon make per show? Assuming there are 193 episodes of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon per season like there were in 2022, at a salary of $16 million per year, Fallon makes about $82,901.55 per show.

Who is the highest paid comedy? ›

Highest-paid comedians
RankNameAnnual earnings (USD)
1Kevin Hart$87.5 million
2Jerry Seinfeld$43.5 million
3Terry Fator$21 million
4Amy Schumer$17 million
6 more rows

What is the annual salary of Stephen Colbert? ›

He hosted The Colbert Report from 2005 to 2014, and since 2015, he has been hosting The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, where his salary is reportedly $15 million a year.

Is Hasan Minhaj related to Nicki Minaj? ›

Is Hasan Minhaj related to Nicki Minaj? No. I did briefly meet her at the Met Gala and I was like, "Hey, we should take a picture together." And Trevor Noah was like, "Hey, yeah, you should.

Does Hasan Minhaj have a college degree? ›

Minhaj attended the University of California, Davis, where he majored in political science. He graduated in 2007. In 2009, Minhaj moved to Los Angeles to perform on NBC's Stand-up for Diversity, on which he was a finalist.

How did Hasan Minhaj have kids? ›

" he recalled, of their time before becoming parents. "If you don't get this surgery, you can't have kids," Minhaj said his doctor told him before he underwent varicocele repair surgery to fix an issue with his blood and sperm count. The surgery was successful; Minhaj and Patel conceived their son six weeks later.

How did Hasan and Beena meet? ›

They met in college

Hasan Minhaj and Beena Patel in college. Minhaj and Patel met as freshmen attending UC Davis in Minhaj's hometown. Minhaj included a nod to the UC Davis fountain, where he saw Patel for the first time, in the custom ring he had made for her in 2020.

What does Beena Patel do? ›

Patel is a public health doctor who holds a DrPH from UCLA. She is the executive director of the Vituity Cares Foundation, where she works to bridge gaps in healthcare to make it accessible to everyone. Her work focuses on bringing healthcare to communities in need in the U.S. and other countries like Tanzania.

What is Hasan Minhaj known for? ›

Hasan Minhaj is a two-time Peabody Award-winning comedian best known for his breakout Netflix special Homecoming King and his critically acclaimed political satire show Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj for Netflix, which won a Peabody, an Emmy, and a Television Academy Honor.

What happened to Hasan Minhaj daily show? ›

He was referring to a controversy sparked by a September story in the New Yorker that aimed to fact-check Minhaj's stand-up comedy. The month before, Variety had exclusively reported that he was the frontrunner to replace Trevor Noah as host of “The Daily Show,” but he lost the job after the scandal arose.

How long is the Hasan Minhaj show? ›

In general, shows run anywhere from 1.5 to 3 hours long.


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