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 And it’s not as if the comments are old and could be attributed to being outdated, they were from 2018.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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Movie Review: The Farewell

The Farewell is a small budget film from Lulu Wang set mostly in China with dialogue mostly in Mandarin. It stars an almost all Chinese cast that comes to grips with a family dilemma that many people, not just Asians have to deal with, saying goodbye to a loved one for the last time while that loved one is still alive.

Current rising star, Awkwafina, hot on the heels of her breakout role in Crazy Rich Asians, takes on a more serious role as Billi Wang. Billi is an aspiring writer who was received the bad news that she was rejected for a grant. She also receives the news from her parents that her Nai Nai, her paternal grandmother is dying of cancer. With the pretense of a all the family going to China to visit her for the wedding of one of her grandchildren, and Billi’s cousin, the family come to not only pay respects to the matriarch of the family but to also say their goodbyes. It is also decided among family members that the little time she has left she not be told about her condition.

This may sound odd to western audiences, but it is not all that unusual in Asia. Billi is not asked to join her parents as she would be the one most likely to tell Nai Nai the truth. She is also the most westernized of the extended family. Nevertheless, she scrapes up her own money to fly to China as well. While there she reconnects with her extended family and her grandmother. Yet underlying that is the fact that she is back in a China that has changed. her childhood neighborhood is no longer there and her understanding of the family dynamic his different as she had grown up with strained relationships with her own parents.

Yet, Billi has amazing love for her grandmother and internally and with other members is the constant debate on whether to reveal the truth to her grandmother about her condition. To a one, they all believe not to because it would place a burden on her. Whereas the family members take on the burden of her illness so that she may enjoy her last days surrounded by loved ones. And for someone like Nai Nai, she would see herself as a burden on others with her illness.

Being among her family brings out a sparking joy to Nai Nai as she is with her loving family. Billi especially has a rekindling of her bonds with her grandmother and finds the comfort and closeness that she has seemed to have lost with her own parents. And it is through her that she begins to understand her parents more.

The wedding subterfuge is rather interesting as it is for Billi’s cousin Hao Hao, who like her is a transplant, but to Japan. His girlfriend is Japanese which gives just a little bit of cultural tension as she does not speak Mandarin like everyone else. An it is never really stated how much she is in on the deception. Chen Han, as Hao Hao may not have much dialog, but he is always seen in the background feeling the pain of the deception that he must pull off in from of the family matriarch.

Crazy Rich Asians may have been Awkwafina’s breakthrough role, but this is without a doubt her starring breakout. Her comedic talents were a highlight in Crazy Rich Asians, but here where she is the star, she brings a strong dramatic turn as an Asian American caught between the multiple cultures, American, Chinese, and Chinese-American.

Bili’s father is played by Tzi Ma, a veteran Chinese-American actor with one of those faces that like many other Chinese-American actors has popped up in film and television for decades. It is about time he got as meaty a role as he got with The Farewell.

Nai Nai is played wonderfully by Zhao Shuzhen who does not seem to have any other credits to her name according to IMDB, but she turns in such a natural and charming performance that it is as if she embodies all that is good and beloved of everyone’s grandmother.

the-farewell-movie

In a theatrical field that seems to be flooded these days with big budgeted blockbusters and tent pole titles, it is significant that a film with a $3 million budget is actually one of the best films of the year. We are blessed that films such as The Farewell still exist. It is full of charm, heart, performances that are filled with natural verisimilitude. That natural verisimilitude may be because, as the opening title card says, that the story is based on a real lie. Lulu Wang based the screenplay on her own family experience and relationship with her own Nai Nai.

One of the reasons why representation matters in Hollywood is that even though on the surface, this is a family melodrama, it is from a perspective of Asian and Asian-American culture that much of movie goers in the west may not be familiar with and certainly something that Hollywood has been reluctant to include in their searches for the next big hit. What films like this, Crazy Rich Asians, and Netflix’s Always be my Maybe show is that Asian-Americans can tell their stories just as well as mainstream Hollywood. And because of their diversity they can tell these stories in a unique and original way.

I lost both my parents some years ago and managed t be by their bedsides for their last moments. Unfortunately the circumstances being what they were, neither time were they in a very conscious state and neither of their passings were what the family was prepared for. Lulu Wang’s new film, The Farewell deals with a touchy subject that is handled deftly with both humor and heart-touching drama.

Final Score: 9/10