Since the appearance of Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles, representation of Asian men in popular culture – and specifically comedy – hasn’t really changed much. They’re mostly still nerdy, socially incapable background characters. Still, primetime TV has shown us that Asian men can be more than just quiet contributions to set dressing. They can be funny in their own right. But being the funny bro doesn’t really mean you’ll have any more success with the ladies. Just ask Lester Patel from Chuck,Raj Koothrappali from The Big Bang Theory, or Tom Haverford from Parks and Recreation.
Lester (Vik Sahay) works at the Buy More as part of Chuck’s Nerd Herd team and occasionally performs as part of the music group Jeffster! with his best friend, Jeff. Raj (Kunal Nayyar) is an astrophysicist at Caltech who suffers from a case of selective mutism in which he can’t speak to women outside of his family (except after the consumption of alcohol). Tom (Aziz Ansari) is a member of the Pawnee Parks and Recreation department team, often serving as Leslie Knope’s right-hand man.
The Asians have gotten cooler, but they still aren’t quite cool, yet.
Fat, black woman. Big, black chick. Those descriptors are lazy comedy shorthand in a racist, sexist and sizist society. Want to bring on the cheap laughs? Then trot out an over-sized, brown-skinned lady. Even better, despite her fatness and blackness, give her a more than healthy opnion of herself. See, that makes it doubly funny, see, cause even though everyone knows neither black women or fat women are hot, this character doesn’t seem to know this and actually behaves as if she is attractive and worthy of amorous attention.
See how it works? I’ve come to expect black women, especially plus-sized ones, to be the butt of the joke in low-brow comedy films–the sort of flicks commonly associated with Eddie Murphy, Rob Scheider or Tyler Perry. But usually your benign, weekday sitcoms eschew hateful comedy. I’ve been watching NBC’s Amy Poehler vehicle “Parks & Recreation” off and on this season. I want to like it. I’m a fan of “The Office” and generally find Poehler charming. Each time I tune in to the show I hope it will be better. But last night, “Parks & Recreation” lost me for good. Because I can’t relax and laugh in the face of the dehumanization of women.