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Is Hasan Minhaj's position as America's most prominent brownsplainer in trouble? Minhaj's overheated yet all-too-neat tales of persecution as a "brown kid" growing up in Davis, California, were never going to work on anyone even slightly jaded by the race-baiting of the last few years: we all know clout-chasing when we see it.
But when the hall-monitor types who compose your fan base turn on you, you know you've gone too far. You're not just slandering some stuck-up white chick who friend-zoned you in high school. You're actively harming communities of "real, everyday brown folks." You're "disregarding intersectionality" and possibly "help[ing] white supremacy."
Does all this render Minhaj unfit to assume the liberal papacy of "Daily Show" host? Those asking betray a misunderstanding of just what entertainers like Minhaj get paid to do. "He didn’t invent stuff to make himself funnier. He did it to raise the stakes in the easiest, most self-regarding way possible," marvels New York Times comedy critic Jason Zinoman, seemingly unaware that he's just delivered a perfect job description for late-night host in the age of Trump. Being funny is no longer the point. Has anyone ever credibly accused Trevor Noah of making them laugh?
Minhaj, Noah, Kimmel, Meyers, Colbert: none are comedians in the old sense of the word. Those guys lived and died for laughter, generally a reaction to a surprising truth — or just a well-crafted punchline. This new breed seeks applause, the warm, ego-stroking assurance that they're on the right side of history. This reaction has become so prevalent it has a name: clapter.
The pearl-clutching about Minhaj blithely subsituting "emotional truth" for actual truth fixates on a specific anxiety about comedians who play at being news anchors: what if their tendency to play fast and loose with the facts spills over into the real news?
But they've got it backward. Like journalism, comedy used to be a vaguely disreputable occupation whereby disagreeable misfits afflicted the comfortable. Now both fields are magnets for apple-polishing Ivy Leaguers looking to ascend the meritocracy. Consider that one of the plum gigs for an up-and-coming comic is to host the White House Correspondents' Dinner (Minhaj had his turn in 2017, that annus mirabilis for hacky Drumpf humor).
Emotional truths? They’ve been guiding our news media for years. That’s how a crass loudmouth's shocking electoral upset becomes a Putin-enabled fascist takeover of America. And how the sad, all-too-typical death of a drug-addled career criminal resisting arrest becomes a call to “dismantle white supremacy” by burning down cities.
It would be nice if Hasan-gate would prompt some soul-searching about the veracity of the other spurious narratives tearing us apart. More likely, Minhaj will just be the latest sacrifice by a movement that feeds on its own. Let him host the “Daily Show” or not; this intra-cathedral spat is not our problem. Those of us with any curiosity about what's really going on tuned out long ago.
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Managing Editor, Align
Matt Himes is the managing editor for Align.