Recent interviews with comedian Hasan Minhaj have people questioning the way he has been presenting stories about his life as an Asian and Muslim in the US. Part of his comedy has been telling stories of racist incidents and aggressions he has endured throughout his upbringing until now, including a story of rushing his daughter to the Emergency Room due to suspicious white powder being mailed to him.
Every comedian uses hyperbole and some artistic license with the facts in order to get laughs. It’s understood that comedians will invent entire scenarios for entertainment value. What is not okay is the way Minhaj has turned elements of his stories about racist events to make them seem worse than they were. Since his stories are not only being used as comedy, but also as a form on anti-racist activism, it is not okay that he has exaggerated the stories to the point he has.
For example, he told a story about being rejected by his high school prom date on the night of prom, because her parents didn’t want a person of color in her prom photos, because the family would object. This is not a factual representation of events, but there were enough details in the story to doxx the prom date, and she actually got death threats. Both identifying her with details, and embellishing the negative aspects of the story were wrong, because he was using the story not only to elicit laughter,but an emotional response about racism.
I have an issue with what he described as his “Arnold Palmer” mistre of fact and fiction, in that it is hurtful not only to the prom date, but the stories about racist incidents should be told factually. Changing the details for laughs ends up not being funny when people are being harmed by misrepresentations of racism.