Whoopi Goldberg backs Hasan Minhaj exaggerating stories for a laugh: ‘That’s what we do’

Two photos: A seated Whoopi Goldberg holds a mic and Hasan Minhaj poses in a tan long-sleeve shirt
Whoopi Goldberg is defending comedian Hasan Minhaj, who recently admitted to embellishing his harrowing stories for laughs.
(CJ Rivera / Invision / Associated Press, left; Evan Agostini / Invision / Associated Press, right)
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Comedians embellish stories for a punch line — and it’s just the nature of comedy, according to Whoopi Goldberg.

“The View” host came to the defense of “Patriot Act” star Hasan Minhaj on Monday, explaining that sometimes in comedy, the end justifies the means.

Minhaj, 37, was the subject of debate last week for occasionally exaggerating harrowing experiences for a laugh, further fueling the debate that Goldberg felt compelled to address on the ABC talk show.

The “Ghost” Oscar winner, who started in stand-up comedy, explained that comedians have to exaggerate what happens to them for the audience payoff.


“[Minhaj] was recently sort of having to defend his comedy because a writer from the New Yorker called him out for making up stories,” Goldberg said. “That’s what we do. That’s what we do. We tell stories and then we embellish them.”

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“The Color Purple” and “Sister Act” star recalled a time — recently — that a reporter tried to fact-check whether she had a degree from New York University (she doesn’t), following up on a claim she made onstage in the late 1980s as her stand-up character Fontaine (who claimed he does).

“Listen: If you’re gonna hold a comic to the point where you’re gonna check up on their stories,” Goldberg said, “you have to understand, a lot of it is not the exact thing that happened, because why would we tell exactly what happened? It ain’t that interesting.”

The “Till” star and her co-hosts actually unanimously agreed, explaining that sometimes you have to suspend disbelief for entertainment.

“There is information that we’ll give you as comics that will have grains of truth. But, you know, don’t take it to the bank,” Goldberg said.

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Her position paralleled that of Minhaj, who was hot news last week after the New Yorker discovered that parts of his act were either untrue or couldn’t be verified. The “Daily Show” alum, who in his act often recounts his experiences as an Asian American and Muslim American, is reportedly being eyed to step in for former “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah.


Minhaj promptly released a statement in his defense — as well as in defense of American comedy, which has been evolving rapidly in the wake of #MeToo, cultural sensitivities and tech advancements.

The King’s Jester” star said his stand-up is embellished but rooted in “emotional truth.”

“I use the tools of standup comedy — hyperbole, changing names and locations, and compressing timelines to tell entertaining stories. That’s inherent to the art form,” he said in a statement to The Times, responding to the article. “You wouldn’t go to a haunted house and say, ‘Why are these people lying to me?’ The point is the ride. Stand-up is the same.”

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He also said that the punch line is worth the fictional premise.

“Every story in my style is built around a seed of truth,” Minhaj said. “My comedy Arnold Palmer is 70% emotional truth — this happened — and then 30% hyperbole, exaggeration, fiction,” he told the New Yorker.

Goldberg doubled down on that at the end of “The View” segment: “That’s our job. A ‘seed of truth.’ Sometimes [it’s] the truth and sometimes [it’s] total BS.”

Times staff writer Emily St. Martin contributed to this report.