Tag Archives: comedy

Sumpin’ Turrrrble: SNL’s Keenan Thompson Performs Minstrel Act

by Racialicious special correspondent Wendi Muse, originally published at The Coup Magazine (blog)

I didn’t get a chance to see the entire episode of Saturday Night Live this weekend, but I came across a segment clip from NBC’s website that made my blood curdle. SNL’s guest this week was the young actress of Juno fame, Ellen Page, whose comedic timing proved powerful yet equally disturbing in a piece with Keenan Thompson, the only black member of the cast (Maya Rudolph, who is half black-American, half white Jewish, identifies as multiracial), entitled “Virginiaca Goes to Baby Gap.” You can see the full video of the sketch here, but I’ll give you a little re-cap:

An overweight black woman who, only for lack of a better term, would be characterized as “ghetto” stumbles out of breath into a Baby Gap store (as it’s on the second floor) with a pastry in hand. She practically sexually harasses the Baby Gap employee (played by Andy Samberg). Her step-daughter, played by Ellen Page, corn-rowed, permed, and wearing a tracksuit, enters the store, demanding to try on spandex pants she’d like to wear as booty shorts. Angered that the Baby Gap employee won’t allow her to try on the pants for fear that she’ll stretch out the merchandise (as it’s meant for BABIES), Page’s character and Virginiaca name drop (as Virginiaca’s new husband is a wealthy white aluminum tycoon, the daughter of whom she has clearly “corrupted”) in hopes of getting their way. After a slew of aural and visual stereotype guest appearances (including the “booty back and forth” dance and repeated overt and unwanted flirting with the sales guy), the segment ends with the sales person quitting and Virginiaca in all fours on a merchandise stand continuing her “booty back and forth” dance in the store.

While SNL has engaged in black/brownface before, including having light-skinned Latino Fred Armisen play presidential hopeful Barack Obama, and Darrell Hammond play Jesse Jackson and Geraldo Rivera,they were impressions, albeit good ones, and I never found offense in having the best cast members for the job portray important members of our society who happened to have darker skin than theirs. Yet when I saw the “Shopping with Virginiaca” sketch, which apparently is a regular segment on the show, I felt something different. Keenan Thompson, though black, was performing a blackface minstrelsy routine that went far beyond basic impressions of famous people. He was poking fun, sure, but in a way that ultimately cements what black women are and how we are viewed by the general public.

The routine was all the more significant in its meaning when I first saw it as I had just ended a conversation with a white colleague regarding how much I tire of the negative images of black women on tv that are so powerful that I can’t help but wonder whether or not people expect this behavior of me when they see me on the bus, on the subway, or in the street, no matter how I am dressed, how I speak, my job titles, or what school I went to. The stereotype precedes me. It walks 10 feet ahead, greeting those who pass by before I can say a word. And shame on you, Keenan Thompson, for making the stereotype strong enough to tackle me down before I can open my mouth to interrupt its first impressions. Continue reading

Meet the man behind “Stuff White People Like”

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

A ton of you have been writing to me about a new blog called Stuff White People Like. It’s a hilarious, satirical Wikipedia-esque guide to exactly what the title says, filled with dead-on observations that make you laugh in surprise and recognition. And when I say recognition, I mean not only that I’ve noticed a lot of the behavior mentioned in white people I know, but also that I recognize myself (hey, I am half white) in a lot of the posts.

One of my favorite posts is “Top Ten Hip Hop Songs White People Love,” especially this part:

I was preparing to write a post about how white people love “old school” hip hop, and take it very seriously. Or perhaps how they love “conscious” hip hop that so vitally addresses the problems of a community that they don’t belong to. Remember, they aren’t dancing or jogging to this music for fun – it’s for a social cause.

I’ve always wondered why it is that most audience members at “conscious” rap concerts are white – a question tackled by Bakari Kitwana a couple years ago in a piece he did for the Village Voice titled “The Cotton Club“. The title is “a reference to the 1920s and ’30s Harlem jazz spot where Black musicians played to whites-only audiences.”

Isn’t there something condescending about non-black people telling black people what kind of hip hop they should listen to when hip hop is arguably a black art form to begin with?

Anyway, I mention all this because from the first time I saw the site, I’ve been wondering who the hell started it all. And now we know, thanks to The Assimilated Negro, who just landed a two-part interview (part 1, part 2) with the man behind the blog. Here are some interesting excerpts:

SWPL: ok. I am white. here is another non surprise. there are pictures of me on the site. I’m the dude recycling. and the guy at dim sum. and the guy holding the iphone. and the bicycle picture is my bicycle.

TAN: ha…. SCOOP!

SWPL: I work here in Los Angeles as a Copywriter/Corporate Communications person.

TAN: do you consider yourself aligned with the white people you profile? You’re white, but are you whom you describe/study?

SWPL: oh yes. this site pokes fun at ME. that’s why I use pictures of myself. those aren’t taken out of irony. this is the shit that I do. I need to call myself out for all of the stupid shit that I take for granted. why do I need $300 bike rims? why is a $10 sandwich considered normal?

TAN: When did you become self-conscious about your “whiteness”? When do you think the white liberal guilt kicks in? Is there an age? a rite of passage? do you need to see some black comedians talk about it? all of the above?

SWPL: Well remember a lot of the white people I’m lampooning (including myself) always can laugh at the comic view stuff because we’re like “yeah, those OTHER white people, they are ridiculous.” I grew up in Chinatown, in Toronto East Chinatown. a neighborhood bordered by a housing project, greektown, and little india. the neighborhood was always safe, but it’s gentrified like crazy in the past ten years. but I would say growing up there made me aware of whiteness right away. I knew most chinese slurs for white people by age 10. but at the same time, I wasn’t isolated. Toronto produces some pretty diverse crews of friends.

TAN: Do you see any difference in response between whites and minorities/ethnics?

SWPL: not really sure. They are all email responses, so people could be lying. For the most part the response is positive from everyone. Most of the white people who write in are the ones being satirized, and they get the joke. The minorities who write in usually love the blog, they are also usually the first to go after white people who say that the blog is racist. The best response I’ve seen so far is someone who said, “there’s a big difference, you haven’t been denied a job because you like Yoga and Expensive Sandwiches.” I think that put things into perspective pretty quickly.

Who is allowed to laugh at black culture?

by guest contributor Tami Winfrey Harris, originally published at What Tami Said

Last month, the New York Times reviewed comedian Chris Rock’s New Year’s Eve stand-up performance at Madison Square Garden. the review alleged that while Rock is still edgy and, most importantly, funny, the comedian has shifted his approach to racial comedy over the years. Kelefah Sanneh wrote:

Where once he held forth conspiratorially, flattering fans by sharing taboo insights with them, now he is more likely to hold forth confrontationally, as a way (perhaps) to acknowledge the Michael Scotts in the crowd. Where once he was mainly descriptive, now he is prescriptive too. Monday’s set included a long bit about when it is permissible for white people to use his favorite racial epithet (there is only one hypothetical occasion, and it involves extreme suffering); advice to women with careers not to complain to their nannies; and an explanation of why no one should have been surprised when Don Imus made his comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team.

Conscious of the weight on his shoulders, Mr. Rock now seems a little less roguish and a little more righteous. Almost out of the blue, he asked, “Do you know how much better Seabiscuit’s life was than my grandfather’s?” And a riff on Regis Philbin built to a climax that was shocking and amusing in equal measure.

“Michael Scott” refers to the lead character on NBC’s popular “The Office.” Despite Scott’s professed tolerance, he often horrifies his staff with social gaffes related to race, gender and sexual orientation. In a recent episode, Scott performed Chris Rock’s infamous “two kinds of black people” routine and later wondered “How come Chris Rock can do a routine, and everybody finds it hilarious and groundbreaking, and then I go and do the exact same routine, same comedic timing, and people file a complaint to corporate?”

My question is not why non-black people need to tread carefully when finding humor in African American culture. I find it disingenuous when people claim to not understand why jokes at a group’s expense (or certain words) are not appropriate when they come from outside of the group.My question is, is it okay for black folks to laugh at the racial stereotypes often found in comedy? What does it say about us? And what responsibility do black comedians have to censor what they say when their words have the power to influence mainstream perceptions of our race?

The topic of race seems to be a mainstay for modern black comics. Some, like Chris Rock, are able to tackle sensitive issues deftly. But a bunch are BET’s Comic View-type hacks that traffic in “black people do this” and “white people do that” jokes. If you’ve ever heard these ubiquitous comedians, you know that in their routines the things black people do are always negative. We have bad credit. We have bad attitudes. We are always late. We are lazy. We do drugs. Black men are unfaithful. Black women are loud, aggressive and emasculating. Both black men and women are hyper sexual and crass.

These gross generalizations and stereotypes don’t seem to bother black audiences or black comedians. Is it because we have internalized society’s negative view of us? Though we’ll go to battle if a Don Imus cracks wise about black folks, do we secretly believe all the bad things people say? I find it telling that Dave Chapelle was okay with his TV show’s often prejudiced content until he noticed that a white guy was laughing a little too hard at the jokes.

I’ll admit it…I laugh at Chris Rock and Dave Chapelle. Can’t stomach the Comic View brigade, though. I would be surprised if there is a black person who hasn’t ever nodded and smirked at one of those “black people do this” routines. But laughter seems a lot like acceptance and knowing that makes me awfully uncomfortable.

Is it really okay for me, a black woman, to laugh along with stereotypes? And even if, as black people, popular comics have the right to send up African Americans and our habits, is it prudent for them to do so? Are they just polluting the social atmosphere, keeping black minds colonized and stoking prejudices in white minds?

Surprisingly, on this issue, I don’t have an answer. Maybe you do. What do you think?

Note from Carmen: If you haven’t already, be sure to check out tstorm’s excellent documentary on race and humor

MadTV turns Obama into a mandingo

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

As early as April, we began seeing emails floating around linking Barack Obama with a sexual desire for white women. Now the “he’s coming for our white women” sentiment has gone mainstream, thanks to this dumb-as-shit MadTV skit. (Thanks Wendi.)

Maybe I’m missing something, but to me this presidential race is about as sexual as Tay Zonday’s last visit to the optometrist.

Only a society that has internalized stereotypes about black men as sexual predators and women as sex objects could come up with as crude a sexual narrative as we see here.

MadTV has done some good commentaries on race in the past (especially Aren’t Asians Great? and Nice White Lady). But this piece of racist and sexist drivel is just a fucking embarrassment.

Is This Racist… Against Whites?

by Racialicious guest contributor Jennifer Fang, originally published at Reappropriate

Denver City Councilman Charlie Brown is causing a stir. A constituent of his saw this diversity video and thought it was racist – against Whites — and Councilman Brown agrees.

(The full video is 8 minutes long and available for download here)

Brown thinks that the video attacks blue-collar workers in Denver, because it “implies that it is only White, blue-collar workers who commit these kinds of statements”.

On a segment aired on CNN during Primetime with Erica Hill (linked above), Councilman Brown and Stephen Viscusi, a radio host of a show called “On the Job” discuss the video. Both Brown and Viscusi argue that the segment perpetuates an antiquated interpretation of racism by not showing joksters of different colours and creeds. However, Brown further argues that even showing the kinds of jokes highlighted in this video is embarassing and anachronistic, and that nobody even talks like that anymore — which is so out-of-touch with reality that it’s hard to imagine that this guy ever got elected to anything.

The message seems to be from the discussion that diversity training will embarass Whites unless they see that minorities can be racist, too.

I’m sorry, but I call bullshit. While it’s true that the video is kind of kitschy, it shows one White person — in an office where the only person of colour is the Black narrator whom no one else can see — making offensive jokes while the other White co-workers look on disapprovingly. So to argue that the video sends the message that all White blue-collar workers are racist is, I think, not looking at the video in its entirety.

Second, I’m strongly against the idea that racist jokes perpetuated by Whites against people of colour (or other minorities) is the same — and should be treated the same — as jokes spoken by a person of colour against someone else. They are all racist (and probably un-funny) and should not be tolerated, but let’s not forget the whole concept of oppression and power.

But, hey, this is a post dashed off in ten minutes, so my thoughts might still not be fully formed (or at least not well articulated). What do you all think?

Funny Business: Muslims in Comedy

by Racialicious special correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie

Unfortunately, the first image that comes to mind when anyone mentions Islam isn’t a room full of people laughing. But if Maz Jobrani, Shazia Mirza, and Preacher Moss have their way, that will change.

Jobrani, Mirza, and Moss are Muslim comedians; Jobrani and Moss are part of the Axis of Evil and Allah Made Me Funny comedy tours, respectively. Mirza is a British Muslim comedian who has toured in the U.S. and across Europe.

Muslim comedy tours like the Axis of Evil (pictured here) and Allah Made Me Funny comedy tours are gaining momentum, both in the Muslim world and out. The Axis of Evil comedy tour has a special on Comedy Central, a DVD, has already finished a U.S. tour and is currently gearing up for a tour of the Middle East. Allah Made Me Funny has also finished a U.S. tour and is currently on a European tour, and has a DVD available on their website.

In interviews with altmuslim.com, both the members of Axis of Evil and Allah Made Me Funny stress that their comedy is a way to break down stereotypes and problems within their communities. Aron Kader, a member of the Axis of Evil tour, says, “We want to represent our culture in a positive way. Through comedy, we can be accepted and be seen for who we really are – regular Americans.” Dean Obeidallah, another member of the Axis, agrees: “So often we sit and complain how we are demonized and portrayed horribly, [but] the only ones who will ever clear our name is us. The burden is on us. No one is going to do us a favor.”

Tissa Hami, a female Muslim comedian, agrees with this aim. Hami (pictured here) describes her comedy as her way of helping combat stereotypes against Muslims. “‘Why aren’t we speaking out for ourselves?’ she said she would ask herself. ‘Why aren’t we doing something? To me this is something I could do. I know it’s comedy. I know it’s this much. But, if we all do this much, it’s something.’”

Female Muslim comedians are few and far between, but slowly, they’re becoming more visible. Tissa Hami, an Iranian-American, is gaining in popularity in the U.S with her comedy appearances. Hami’s comedy is meant to encourage viewers to look beyond appearances. She dresses in all black, from her shoes to her hejab, and then comes out with lines like: “I’ll be honest with you. I should have worn a long coat, but I was feeling kind of slutty tonight.”

Hami’s comedy reminds me of Shazia Mirza, a Pakistani-British Muslim woman who has gained a fair amount of popularity ever since she appeared at a comedy club dressed in hejab and said, “My name is Shazia Mirza. At least, that’s what it says on my pilot’s license.” Since then, Mirza has been on tours in both Britain and the U.S., and won several awards for her comedy.

Neither Mirza nor Hami wear a headscarf outside of their performances; in fact, Mirza has stopped using hejab in her performances because she felt it unnecessary. Many people disagree with the use of hejab in a comedy show, viewing it as a prop. But the point is to break stereotypes: how can you disrupt the image of a covered woman as oppressed and submissive when there are no veiled sisters doing comedy?

Unfortunately, there are a fair amount of people who disagree with this comedy, many of them Muslims. Preacher Moss, in the altmuslim.com interview, admits, “Yeah, the fiercest critics of our product have been Muslims.” Many Muslims who have not seen the comedy tours view them as haraam (or forbidden) because they assume the comedy’s purpose is to make fun of Islam.

However, in my view, laughter is a good way to break boundaries. Obviously, it can’t be the only thing; we run the risk of becoming the stereotypes we poke fun at. But laughter is a great place to start. If you haven’t seen them, both comedy tours should both be available on your NetFlix: queue ‘em up already!

The Office recap: Survivorman

by guest contributor Jasmine

“Survivorman” pits man against the nature (sort of) when Michael, jealous after Ryan invited Toby and all the other regional managers on a camping trip but not him, decides to spend some time in the woods. While Michael spends enough time in isolation to make his pants into shorts, and then back into pants, and then into a shelter, he doesn’t quite make it long enough to actually do any proper camping. No s’mores for Michael, now or for the forseeable future. Naturally, Dwight (who stuck around and hid after dropping Michael off) managed to show how useful and scary his own outdoorsman skills are.

Before too long, Michael and Dwight return to the office, where the remaining staffers are on the verge of rioting (albeit passive-aggressively) over Jim’s changes in how they celebrate birthdays in the office. We’re treated to clips of birthdays past — Michael scaring Phyllis nearly out of her car. Michael surprising Oscar so abruptly that Oscar falls on the floor. Michael getting up in Stanley’s face, then remarking “I guess black DOES crack!” just as Stanley gets ready to blow out the candles. Still nothing like Oscar’s Mexican-themed welcome back party in season 3′s “The Return”, but what could?

Jim’s desire to consolidate office birthday parties into a single annual event for all doesn’t take into consideration that for the Scranton office of Dunder-Mifflin, these parties are as vital as they are annoying. Sure, Michael will take the opportunity to celebrate and offend the birthday boy or girl, but the parties are still a welcome break from what would be a long, non-productive day. In the end, Jim realizes the errors of his ways, though not before he is threatened by birthday boy Creed, is not-so-accidentally called Michael by Phyllis (who conceals quite a bit of larceny under such a sweet demeanor), and writes a truly awful memo outlining the new short-lived birthday party policy. There is pie, a Fudgy the Whale ice cream cake from Carvel (my favorite!), and regular cake for everybody to consume. Also, Creed even has to skip around the room while everybody sings “Skip around the room! We won’t shut up until you skip around the room!” I can only hope my next office birthday is so frivolous, and so bursting with ice cream cake.

For more The Office recaps, click here.