Hasan Minhaj vs New Yorker’s Clare Malone

OK, I Will Now Attempt to Explain What’s Happening With Hasan Minhaj and the New Yorker


VIDEO/ABC News/Youtube
VIDEO/Hasan Minhaj/Youtube

After a career-halting exposé about his “emotional truths,” the comedian finally responds

When the New Yorker published staff writer Clare Malone’s exposé on comedian Hasan Minhaj in September—which brought to light, among other things, some alleged fabrications in his stand-up specials—fans and critics were shocked and disappointed. Minhaj, who had gained major recognition as a Daily Show correspondent starting in 2014, had made a name for himself as a political comedian who used his work to highlight oppression, marginalization, and the insidious ways racism affects brown people, particularly brown Muslim Americans. He achieved even greater prominence through critically acclaimed Netflix specials and his talk show Patriot Act, which, during its two-year run, took a more journalistic approach to exploring contemporary cultural and political issues. Minhaj was said to have been the front-runner to succeed Trevor Noah and become the next host of The Daily Show—until, per the rumor mill, Malone’s New Yorker piece came out.

But the saga doesn’t end there. On Thursday, more than a month after the career-halting piece’s publication, Minhaj posted a 21-minute YouTube video response to the New Yorker article in which he claims to have “brought receipts” that rebuke some of Malone’s claims. Minhaj executes this response in the most Hasan Minhaj way: by doing a “deep dive” on his “own scandal,” complete with graphics, screenshots of emails, and raw audio of the interview with Malone. Before launching in, Minhaj warns viewers to “buckle up because it’s about to get tedious.” He was not lying—but, in the service of curious readers, I watched the very long rebuttal so you don’t have to. Read on for the TL;DR on the ongoing controversy.

So much has happened since the original exposé was published. Remind me, what were the allegations?

Malone’s article alleges that Minhaj admitted that “many of the anecdotes he related in his Netflix specials were untrue”—choices that he, per the article, still stands by in the name of telling the “emotional truth” for storytelling and impact purposes. There are plenty of examples in the report, but we will concern ourselves with the three major points that Minhaj’s response attempts to disprove.

OK—what’s the first?

The first alleged fabrication Minhaj attempts to refute pertains to a story he told in his first Netflix special, Homecoming King. In the special, Minhaj recounts how he successfully asked a white girl to his high school prom, only to be rejected on the day of the dance at her doorstep because of her family’s concern over her appearing with a brown boy in the prom photos that they would share with their relatives. (Ironically, Minhaj reveals, he found out she ended up marrying an Indian American man years later.)

According to the New Yorker piece, for which Malone spoke to the woman in question, Minhaj was turned down days before the dance, not on the night of. The article states that Minhaj and his almost-prom-date had “long carried different understandings of her rejection.” Additionally, the woman allegedly told Malone that she and her family had experienced threats online due to Minhaj’s failure to appropriately safeguard her identity, and that he was allegedly dismissive of her requests to get certain “threads taken down.” Finally, Malone reports, the woman claims that Minhaj invited her to an off-Broadway performance of Homecoming King, which she originally took as a good-faith invitation, but later believed to be intentionally humiliating.

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What the Hasan Minhaj controversy says about the trouble with storytelling


The New Yorker tried to pin the comedian down with facts. It didn’t work.

Rarely have public scandals been as confused or confusing as the one that caused comedian and former Patriot Act host Hasan Minhaj to lose the Daily Show anchor job. It all started with a New Yorker story — an unexpected exposé from writer Clare Malone on Minhaj’s loose relationship with the truth. In a controversial piece from September, Malone presented evidence that Minhaj had embellished details in his standup, specifically details related to his experience of anti-Muslim discrimination in America after 9/11.

Malone’s article raised questions about the role of truth in comedy, and comedy in journalism, but the main takeaway for most seemed to be about Minhaj. There was a sense that these fabrications made him an unreliable narrator as well as an opportunist — someone who faked incidents of racism for the purpose of advancing his career. One writer subsequently described what Minhaj had done as “oppression fantasy” that “delegitimizes real stuff via elite capture.”

Minhaj admitted to Malone on the record that, yes, he did such embellishing, but the stories he told still contained “emotional truth.” Still, the subsequent backlash was enough to reportedly remove Minhaj as the frontrunner to succeed Trevor Noah on The Daily Show. The job would have been a coup for Minhaj, who first came to prominence as a Daily Show correspondent before creating two standupspecials centered around his experience as an Indian Muslim American. He also co-created and hosted the subsequent Netflix comedy news series, Patriot Act, which would have put him in a good position to step into Noah’s role.

In the aftermath, Minhaj released a statement in which he chose to defend his fabrications instead of denying them. A 20-minute video posted to YouTube a month after the article came out went further, with Minhaj himself asking, “Is Hasan Minhaj just a con artist who uses fake racism and Islamophobia to advance his career?” He went on to make a case that instead, he was making “artistic choices to drive home larger issues affecting me and my community.” He called Malone’s framing “needlessly misleading,” and reiterated that most of the things she cited as embellished lies actually happened to him and his family. The exaggerations, however, are head-turning; one of the stories involves Minaj opening a letter with white powder which spilled onto his young child, who was then rushed to the hospital. Minhaj says he did receive a letter filled with white powder, but this is the only part of the story that’s true.

Slate has done a thorough rundown of all the specific instances and allegations Malone made as well as Minhaj’s responses to each, and for the most part, it shows us just how complicated “the truth” can be, both in comedy and journalism. To pick just one other example: In her article, Malone implies that Minhaj completely made up the show-framing story of his 2017 Netflix special, Homecoming King, in which he claimed a female friend from high school dumped him on prom night due to her parents’ racism. In his rebuttal video, Minhaj insists that the acceptance and subsequent rejection really happened, and the woman’s parents did make the racist statements to him that he relates in the comedy special — it just happened a few days before prom. He condensed the events to “drop the audience into the feeling of that moment,” Minhaj states. He then goes on to produce evidence backing up his claims that this woman was aware that racism was a factor in their not going to prom together, evidence which further indicates that Malone explicitly chose not to include these facts in her article, instead writing that Minhaj and his former friend “had long carried different understandings of her rejection.”

And this is how it goes for most of the incidents Malone mentions. Again, Minhaj admits to all of them; he just explains them differently, and with added context.

So now the question we’re left with is two-fold: Is Minhaj’s explanation enough to get him off the hook — or should he have ever been on the hook to begin with? The answers seem to lie in our understanding of storytelling, and in the expectations we have of specific comedic genres. What is it, after all, that we expect from comedy, from journalism, from comedic journalism, and from journalism about comedy?

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