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Pet Sins March 2000

The Original Kings of Comedy

The Original Kings of Comedy, released in 2000, is Spike Lee's documentary about four black American stand up comedians who get together for a live show in the South.

While the performers are indeed talented and most of their jokes are genuinely funny, I did take issue with one of the jokes a comedian made - he imitated a Chinese speaking broken English.

While I am not insisting we should be uptight about all racial jokes, I do have a thing against 2-dimensional racial jokes, based on stereotypes removed from the reality of Asian Americans, African Americans, or Latino Americans. Like the "Asians are smart overachievers" stereotype, "blacks are good at sports" stereotype, or "Latinos are passionate and hot-blooded" stereotype. And the "Asians speak broken English with a heavy accent" falls into that category of old, beaten-to-death stereotypes.

So the comedians did make jokes about blacks and whites too, but these did not fall into the 2-dimensional categories, in my opinion. There was a joke about white people not having enough excitement in their lives, so they seek out high risk sports, while black people have quite enough excitement getting home without getting killed by cops. Sure, this joke was based on broad generalizations of black and white experience in America, but these particular generalizations have not been overused to the point of becoming empty cliches. So they are different from the "Asians speak broken English" stereotype.

If I were in the live audience, I would have felt uncomfortable about being in the presence of someone who was making fun of the Otherness of someone (represented by the caricaturized accent). How is that different from white imitations and mockeries of blacks in the days of the minstrel shows.

multiracial student