Wednesday, July 09, 2008

What's Funny?

A friend sent me this clip yesterday. While viewing it, I thought three things:

1.) Hey, a funny lady comic!
2.) Hey a funny lady Latino comic!
3.) Hey a funny lady Latino comic riffing accurately about visiting a predominately Vietnamese nail salon.

It was all funny because it was true.

But is that okay? The comic, Anjelah Johnson, adopted a very well-done Vietnamese accent and captured at least my most frequent manicure experience.

I couldn't help, though, but recall an episode of Last Comic Standing from a week or two ago. (Pause: I've never watched Comic before. I'm not sure it's worth the time. They seem to pass over the funny people and promote the Guy With The British Accent because Brits are funnier. Duh. [Sorry love!])

A comic on the show had a prop bit. It was a bit Carrot Top and not very inspired, but earned a few chuckles. At one point, though, while doing his version of a WWII movie, the comic put on a pair of glasses with slanty eyes in them and a headband with the Japanese flag on it. Yeah, it was a bit of a "really?" moment. He probably could've conveyed the same joke withOUT the slanty eyes. And the judges told him as much, chastising him for his racist characterizations.

Move ahead about twenty minutes in the show and we have a younger, Korean American dressed as an animae babe come to life. Pigtails, school girl skirt, hooker boots, knee socks, the whole nine. Her bit was about . . . . Koreans! When she went to Korea to see family, she got in the wrong car nine times. Because they don't only look alike to white people!


Wait, what?

So the judges tell her she's funny and fresh and only one - the guy from Law & Order - says something along the lines of "it's legal" to use race if you're in the minority you're mocking.

Is it?

My husband, constantly in awe of Americans' need to be Something-American (Italian-, Irish-, Jewish-, African-, etc) practically levitated from the couch in frustration and confusion. How is it okay for the walking stereotype to get away with stuff we'd pillory a white dude for saying?

So now we're back to Ms. Johnson. She's a Latina. Or Hispanic or Mexican-American or something-American. But her bit plays on Vietnamese. She's in no way playing to a stereotype that I think is negative. The Vietnamese salon workers she creates on stage aren't dumb, etc, they're just pushy business women with accented voices who are probably talking sh*t about you to their fellow manicurists in their native language. Is that bad?

So, if you're a "minority" can you mock all minorities, or just your own?

Do you have to be visibly in the minority to do it? How about me? My last name indicates one thing, but the blinding white skin and freckles convey another. Which groups can I mock?

Or is the line drawn in the way we treat these outgroups in comedy? Mocking to exclude? Mocking to celebrate? Mocking to include? (It can be done!)

What if she gave the manicurist a Southern accent and filled the character with "y'alls" and "darlins" or made her lower-class? Think "Legally Blonde." Is THAT okay?

That's a lot of thought from just one YouTube clip.


Anonymous said...

A lot of comedy works because it pokes fun a people and in a lot of cases that is a group of people. The nail-bar comedy works because it takes the overall experiance and accentuates the funny bits. Much like a cartoonist would take an individual and look for the bits to make funny so does spoken comedy. The only problem is when this is driven by hatred rather than fun. I don't think that who you are or the group or individual that you are talking about should be the issue but more about the feelings behind the comedy. Were the glasses and headband a problem because he was trying to say something bad or because the joke itself was not funny or too simple?

Then what do I know as a white and straight bloke everything I say will probably offend.

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