I like Chris Rock. Still do. I think that he’s pretty race-conscious and can be extremely funny. His 1996 special, Bring the Pain, is one of my favorite stand up performances and he’s consistently put out entertaining and intelligent content. Not to mention, he was great in Madagascar.
That being said, that Asian joke at the Oscars was horrible.
Not only because it was hypocritical to the message Chris Rock had been sending the entire night, but also because it was just so lazy.
“These kids are the accountants because Asians are good at math.” The punchline was basically the Asian children walking out on stage. It was the laziest joke I’ve seen Chris Rock make and it wasn’t funny at all.
Not to say lazy jokes aren’t funny. I’m not trying to say that occasionally going for the low-hanging fruit isn’t hilarious. A lot of high-profile and intelligent comedians have jokes about poop and masturbation. And I enjoy a low-brow penis joke as much as any other person.
But when you’re making jokes about complex issues such as race, it’s much more difficult to go for the lazy joke and still have people find it funny. This is especially so when you’ve spent 3 hours making sharp and pointed jokes about how minorities are treated in the movie industry. Turning around and making a cheap joke about another minority group is careless and, quite frankly, idiotic.
Comedy based on complex issues should subvert expectations and point out the absurdities of society. This did neither.
This is why I actually liked Sacha Baron Cohen’s joke, at least more than I did Chris Rock’s bit. Sure, you could make the argument that it was also offensive and spoke of Asian stereotypes. But the whole point of his Ali G character is to be tone-deaf and moronic in order to call attention to the idiocy and complacency of, well, everyone. Here’s his joke:
“How come there’s no Oscars for them very hardworking, little yellow people with tiny dongs? You know, the Minions.”
I’d say that this joke is more subversive, referencing the lack of Asian people at the Oscars while also using the Ali G persona to point out our own preconceptions. Whether or not the joke was successful in conveying all that is debatable. But with Sacha Baron Cohen’s track record of using absurd, borderline offensive humor to reveal the hypocrisies of society, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. And his joke was certainly less lazy than simply bringing out children on stage and making fun of them.
All of that being said, I still like Chris Rock. There have been people coming out of the woodwork after this admittedly tasteless joke to exclaim, “See?! He’s racist too!!!” As if that invalidates everything else he said during the night and the whole #OscarsSoWhite controversy. I didn’t watch all of the Oscars, but from what I saw, he did well and tackled the racial issues of Hollywood with competence, even if they were somewhat limited to mostly black issues. Nothing he did invalidates any of that.
There’s another type of person that I’ve seen that try to to use this incident to pit black people against Asians. No. Stop. The bit was tone-deaf and Chris Rock and the Academy should definitely be criticized, but don’t use this as a way to put down black people and prop up Asians. We’ve already done that for decades with the model minority myth and it needs to stop.
The one thing I’m glad about is the group effort of Asian-American actors and actresses who protested against the Academy. Although I have some doubt it will catch much steam, it at least tells me that people are aware of the problem and are trying to fix it. It’s something.
And I’m still of the opinion we need a movie Asian-American president.