Opinion: Your Racial Slurs are not Comedy

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Warning. I will be using some strong language. And I get a little pissed off.

I’ve not been a consistent viewer of Saturday Night Live for many years now. I have managed to catch a few episodes over the last few years and still found it mostly entertaining. When news broke that for the first time in over 40 years, SNL had hired its first cast regular of Asian decent, my reaction was “What took so long?” Rob Schneider, a former SNL alum is one quarter Filipino and fellow alum, Fred Armisen is a quarter Korean, who for the longest actually thought he was a quarter Japanese. But Bowen Yang is the first full-Asian cast member. He was a staff writer for the show last year and stepping in front of the camera is a big step up for him and a significant, though long overdue step for representation.

Also announced as new cast members were Chloe Fineman whose claim to fame is her range of impressions. And the third name joining the cast was Shane Gillis, whose claim to fame, apparently, is using racist slurs in the guise of comedy. Gillis and Matt McCusker are seen in a clip from their podcast Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast he is seen mocking Chinese overtly. Interestingly, the podcast episodes have since been scrubbed from YouTube and iTunes. It was only through digging around by journalists that these comments surfaced. And it’s not as if the comments are old and could be attributed to being outdated, they were from 2018. :

A September 2018 episode of “Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast,” which Gillis co-hosts with fellow comic Matt McCusker, shows the comedian mocking Asians. “Damn, Chinatown is fucking nuts,” Gillis says in the clip, before adding, “let the fucking chinks live there.” Gillis and McCusker then mock Asian accents and complain about the “fucking hassle” of ordering food from someone who doesn’t speak English well.

Source: The Daily Beast

But it is not only Chinese that Gillis disparaged:

In a separate podcast, “Ep 144 – A.I. is Racist,” Gillis and McCusker make fun of Asian accents about 22 minutes and 20 seconds in, referring to the video game “Clash of Clans” as “Crash of Crans” in a mock Chinese accent.

A little more than 21 minutes into “Ep 146 – Live from Shane’s Parent’s Basement,” while talking about the Battle of Gettysburg, Gillis refers to soldiers yelling as “so gay.” About 29 minutes into the podcast, Gillis uses the word “retard,” and “f-ggot,” and shortly afterward he and McCusker joke about “hot Southern boys” being raped during the Civil War, comparing it to “having gay sex in jail.”

Gillis, in describing women who disguised themselves as men to fight in the war, refers to them as “flat chested f—ing bitch[es].”

Source: Variety

His homophobic comments did not stop there though:

… Gillis and McCusker chat about comedians who adopt a more confessional style, like Judd Apatow and Chris Gethard, and mock them using homophobic slurs, calling them “white f*ggot comics” and “fucking gayer than ISIS.”…

Source: Vulture.com

Let’s be perfectly clear here. He was not playing a role. It was not some heated conversation and it was not a stage performance or persona. These remarks were during a podcast where everything is casual and open. He was playing himself. They weren’t putting up an act, they were two dudes talking racist shit. There was no fucking joke there.

When these comments from only a year ago resurfaced, he issued a twitter response:

You know what the real false outrage is? The real false outrage is from people defending him saying that comedy is no longer sacred and that pioneers like Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy would be silenced in this current culture. I am old enough to remember Richard Pryor’s comedy. I have never herd him use a racial slur against any other race. Yes, he did use the N word, but he never used the word chink as far as I can remember. Here is audio from one of his famous bits about Chinese food:

Here is Eddie Murphy who is in this famous segment mocked people mocking Chinese:

Now, the above bits were genuinely funny, told on stage as part of an act. Shane Gillis was not on stage. Look, as a comedian, you get pretty much free reign to say whatever you want. You should be allowed to be provocative. but you should also be ready for that pushback. Dave Chappelle’s latest comedy special for Netflix Sticks and Bones received some pushback for offensive material. I have watched it. Yes some of the material pushed the boundaries of good taste, some of which wasn’t even funny — such as his bit in the beginning about Michael Jackson’s victims. But if someone is holding up Chappelle’s latest comedy to Shane Gillis, they are stretching it. Now there are plenty of people online defending Gillis — especially since SNL decided to fire him. Theses defenders just happen to mostly be white. As for an Asian voice, Rob Schneider (he is one-quarter Filipino) is also defending Gillis. So to Bill Burr and Jim Jeffries, here’s a joke for you — go fuck yourselves. Rob Schneider has his own history of racially insulting acts so he is probably the last person that should be defending racist comments. In fact, he should be the last person defending comedy. So Schneider should shut his punk-ass mouth.

So let’s have some perspective from persons of color. The fine dudes at Double Toasted offered their perspective and main host, African American film critic Korey Coleman went and substituted the N word for what was said about Chinese people, except for Chinatown, he used Compton. “You’d have to dig a hole, apologize, and hide in that for two years before you showed your face again.” Korey goes on to say, and I’m editing a little, “Everybody wants the N word for themselves…and listen, not everybody’s gonna get that word. My man talking about being called Fredo (referring to Chris Cuomo being called Fredo)…that is not the N word. But as far as that C word goes, I’ll give y’all that, because it was used to put people down.”

There have been, of course a few online reactions from members of the Asian American community to Shane Gillis one of which is from fellow blog and podcast site, the Nerds of Color. It was also addressed by They Call us Bruce podcast. Chinese American YouTube personalities, the Fung Brothers have put up their reactions to Gillis’s comments. David and Andrew Fung have had a long career usually focused on food, but they have also been outspoken about Asian American issues and our place in American culture. David Fung: “Just because you’re a strong comedian if you’re racist, you get in trouble…nobody is saying he can’t live his life. Nobody is saying he should be thrown in jail, killed. I’ll just say this, I think a lot of Asian Americans are affording him a lot more humanity than he affords us.”  I highly recommend both the Double Toasted and Fung Bros videos.

I am glad that Shane Gillis was eventually fired from being on Saturday Night Live. But it should not have come to this. SNL should have done a better job of vetting its new cast members. And on the note of Saturday Night Live’s own history, defenders of Gillis point out the show’s own history. So let’s address one of the elephants in the room, John Belushi’s Samurai skits back in the 70’s. That was forty years ago, and we knew it as a parody of Samurai films that were popular at the time. And  most racially charged skit was a a classic skit that commented on how words can be offensive.

See, there is actually nothing inherently wrong with these words. What is wrong is their context. And Shane Gillis as some bloke sitting at a table with some other guy complaining about Chinese and gays is providing a window into what his personality really is. There is a big difference between Mel Brooks using the N word all over Blazing Saddles, who was making a comedy about racism, compared to Quentin Tarantino who feels he can drop the word all over his movies just because he feels like it.

The whole Shane Gillis situation shows that we still have a long way to go as far as how race is addressed in this country, even in comedy. You can not disguise your racist rants as “just comedy.” There’s no “just” anything. Yes, they are words, until you use them wrong and in a malicious way like Gillis. I’m glad SNL fired him and I hope he can learn something from this as he is still a young 31 years old. But of course his supporters are all up in arms about “cancel culture” and “political correctness.” Go fuck yourselves. How’s that for political correctness? Now don’t get all upset because I wasn’t being a nice obsequious Chinese.

For further insights from better more enlightened people than me about Asian Americans and Asians in pop culture. I recommend following The Nerds of Color and They Call Us Bruce. Both podcasts are on iTunes and wherever you prefer to get your podcast fix like Soundcloud or Google. Believe me, they are better spoken on these issues than I am. Hopefully I wont’t have to write another post like this again. But I have a feeling it won’t.

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Review: The Hollywood Jim Crow

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Maryann Erigha has definitely done quite a bit of research for her book, The Hollywood Jim Crow. It’s an open secret that Hollywood has embedded in itself a racial belief and divide that with a few exceptions, Black directed and starred films are not bankable. Though primarily focused on Blacks in the film industry, the author tangentially applies this to Asian and Hispanic led films.

This idea is challenged with researched numbers dispelling this idea, though. Not only do Black helmed films do well, they proportionally outperform. The author primarily focuses on Hollywood’s treatment of Black directors and studio reluctance to dole out films of significant budgets to black directors. I do not dispute that there is significant racial bias in favor of white filmmakers, the numbers prove the author right. Of course there is a reason Peter Jackson directed all three Lord of the Rings movies, he was also the producer and writer. It was his project from the get go. That it ended up as big a budget and as huge a franchise as it ended up being was a gamble that paid off. Erigha used this as an example without the context of the background.

In bringing up Black Panther, the author points out that it took Marvel and Disney eighteen movies to hire a Black director for their films. Without a doubt, Black Panther was a financial success and it scored well critically as well. And let’s face some reality about Marvel movies, part of their success is their ability to fit as a whole narrative almost like a multi-part single movie. Directors are basically work for hire executing a big narrative. There is very little reason for this sort of racial disparity.

Those are blockbusters and The Hollywood Jim Crow points out as many successes as “bankable” stars or directors have had, their have been just as many flops. Yet Hollywood still hands out the big bucks and the projects. There was hesitation of having Denzel Washington star in The Equalizer, for instance. Now, Denzel Washington is probably one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, yet Hollywood still has this belief that a person of color can’t carry an action film, especially overseas. It did quite well. And for the first time in Washington’s long career, he signed on for a sequel.

As it is, studio execs, either purposefully or not, have little to no faith in films by Black filmmakers or starring Black actors in lead roles. And when those films come around, they are lower in budget and given less marketing than their equivalent movies of similar budget. Filmmakers like Tyler Perry have had more consistent profit in the box office despite lower market saturation. Is it because he appeals to a niche market and his films will only be as profitable as what his lower budgets are? We don’t know that for sure.

Although Erigha presents her facts well, at times, those facts are repeated a few pages later. Also, I did have some confusion on whether it was a good thing that Black directors were given projects with primarily White casts or not. Also the book does mention that many Black directors are pigeon-holed into making Black-urban films – characters struggling to get out of their “ghetto” life.  To me, those are fine films but it’s the same as asking a Chinese actor if they can perform martial arts for their character. One anecdote from a director says “I make movies about human.” And the human experience as far as cinema is concerned encompasses every experience of our lives. A recent example from this year of a human story, but also a Black story is the excellent If Beale Street Could Talk.

The book is definitely an academic work. The dead giveaway is that it is published by NYU Press. The Subject matter is compelling and certainly relatable, but at times it does come across as dry. It relies on published anecdotes, and figures but  does not seem to reach out to some of the personalities that the author talks about. It would have been nice to hear from Spike Lee or Chris Rock directly for the book rather than rely on previous interviews. It may have provided more current perspectives, if only a few comments.

Not mentioned in the book as much is also the way Asian actors and directors have been treated in Hollywood. As big a star as Jackie Chan is, he’s never had his own starring vehicle and been paired with a partner for market purposes. It is only recently in the rather serious film from him The Foreigner that he was the main lead, albeit, Pierce Brosnan was the villain. Asian directors, such as Justin Lin, and James Wan have had better success, though. That success in getting the big budget films comes from someone at one time giving them that big budget seat at the table. Not everyone gets that chance.

In the end, much of the author’s arguments are a call to action for better representation not only in the director’s char but in the studio boardroom as well. It is about the money, but that buttresses against old Hollywood beliefs about marketability and bankability. There is quite a lot to digest in such a short book, but it is well worth a read and a read on hand reference for those who don’t buy into the myth that people of color don’ make money in the box office.

I received The Hollywood Jim Crow as an advanced galley through edelweiss.com but it does not effect the positives I feel for this book. It is educational and well-informed. It could have even been wider in scope. But the author made a conscious choice to focus primarily on Black filmmakers and I don’t fault that choice. It is well worth a read.

It is my hope that studio execs give this a read or at least get an intern to read and summarize for them, because it holds a mirror to Hollywood’s shortcomings when it comes to representation behind the camera and within the industry. I seriously doubt it though. But as demographics change, Hollywood will have to as well if they want to stay profitable.

Review: Night of Camp David by Fletcher Knebel

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For some reason I still remember a tattered paperback of Night of Camp David by Fletcher Knebel in my huge collection of books only for the tagline “What if the President of the USA went stark-raving mad?” Never read it. Probably donated it to a charity like Friends of the Library. At the time, going by the back cover. I thought it was a thinly veiled allusion to Richard Nixon. I did not know at the time the book originally came out in 1965.

Fast forward to 2018, where we currently have a president that some have described as unhinged or incompetent. Let’s be clear, Night of Camp David is not some Nostradamus like prediction of the Trump presidency any more than I thought it was a reference to the Nixon presidency. Long out of print, interest had recently brought the book back into publication. I even received a NetGalley copy even though I had pre-ordered a paperback already.

The book itself is fairly simplistic, maybe even a little longer than it needs to be. A young junior senator from Iowa gets called to Camp David one night at the behest of the President. While there, in a darkened office the President rails about the Vice President whose own scandal the President takes as a personal attack against him. He want’s the young senator, Jim McVeigh to be his new running mate for re-election instead of the current VP.  He them goes on to promote the idea of nationwide wiretaps of citizens. Bells start going off in McVeigh’s head. But the offer of a vice presidency silences those bells.

But another encounter with the President as well as accounts from other people who have talked to him raises alarming red flags to him where he is convinced the President nuts.

What happens over the next few hundred pages is a lot of hemming and hawing between McVeagh’s own doubts and trying to keep things secret until he is absolutely sure. Even the few people he confides in aren’t convinced. In fact, they think he is the one that is losing his mind.

As far as political thrillers, this is definitely political, but barely has any thrills. Senator Jim MacVeagh is not the brightest bulb in the bunch and he is definitely morally flawed with his extramarital affair. At times the dialog is very dated and sometimes sound like an episode of Mad Men.

The situations themselves does come across as very plausible in how other political figures would react and initially refuse to believe that the president has become an unhinged paranoid with delusions of grandeur. The book was published in 1965, and the 25th Amendment was ratified in 1967. But Fletcher Knebel was also a political newspaper columnist so we can assume he drew on his background for the material. And at time it reads almost like a satire. Perhaps it is and we were never told.

The novel comes to a tidy end. Perhaps it comes at that end a little too conveniently. Nevertheless it is a short read worth taking with you on a plane or to the beach.