In defense of russell peters: are racial stereotypes ever funny?

by Special Correspondent Thea Lim

When is it ok to laugh at comedy based on racial stereotypes?

After our past conversation on Bernie Mac and “in house” jokes and the sudden gruesome ubiquity of Esther Ku, the answer seems to be, Uh, never.

But then, where does that leave Indian Canadian comedian Russell Peters?

This is where I need some help: I freakin’ love Russell Peters. Am I a disgusting hypocrite?

His act is littered with sexism, he’s made a household name for himself with a joke condoning child abuse (somebody gonna get a hurt real bad…), and one of his hottest bits involves mocking South African names. But everyone I know loves him – particularly people of colour, and anti-racist people of colour at that.

Is it because he’s irresistibly likeable? I’d like to think that it takes more than a goofy face to make us abandon our politics. Is it because he’s not only Canadian, but from just outside of Toronto, one of my hometowns? Apparently not, because I was introduced to him by my BFF in Singapore.

I have an inkling as to why it seems ok to like Peters. Last year at VONA, a yearly creative writing workshop for writers of colour, I met the wondrous Junot Díaz who introduced my group to his theory on the Wheel of Tyranny.

Díaz argued that too many books by writers of colour represent only two ethnicities per book: people from the writer’s own community of colour, and white folks. Continue reading