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Race and Comedy

Throughout the history of comedies, there has been much discussion on how different races are portrayed throughout comedic films. Many theorists may argue that the increase of racial minorities in comedic films has increased racial tolerance and acceptance, especially of Asian men. On the other hand, when using different races in these films there tends to be a certain racial hierarchy of intelligence and often times the portrayal of these races succumb to negative stereotypes that society has already placed on them (Hoon, Gabbadon, & Chernin, 2006).

One example is in the film “The Hangover”. The four main male characters are all American and white. The one Asian man in the film, Mr. Chow, is portrayed as an evil enemy who has kidnapped their friend because the men supposedly stole his poker chips. Not only is he the enemy, but he is also homosexual. In real life, the actor for Mr. Chow does not actually have a Chinese accent. He actually used to be a doctor before he got into acting. Now, he is known for his Chinese accent with a lisp, and this is supposed to make his character funnier. Furthermore, in this film the only African American character is a character named Doug who Mr. Chow kidnapped accidentally instead of the original character’s friend. The four main characters refer to him as ‘black Doug’, inferring that since he is African American he needs a label to make it known that he is African American. Also, ‘black Doug’ is also a drug dealer, enforcing the stereotype that all drug dealers are African American males and vice versa.

Generally, if there are not stereotypes of races used for comedy then there is an absence of a diversity of races. For example, if you look at popular comedic films such as “American Pie”, “Superbad”, “Pineapple Express”, and many more, there is a clear absence of other races. The fact that they are so uncommon is racial oppression in and of itself. One film, “Not Another Teen Movie”, is a comedic spoof about all romantic teen comedies. It takes certain parts from a variety of teen comedies and elaborates and makes fun of the situations. There is one quote when they are all at a high school party when one African American male says to the only other African American male at the party, “What are you doing here? There can only be one black man at this party.” Then, the other African American male responds with, “Oh brother I’m sorry you’re right I’ll leave.” This makes it abundantly clear that it is noticeable as to how limited the diversity of races are in comedies.

Another problem with race in comedies is often times white actors’ play African American’s and uses stereotypes to produce the comedic elements. This makes the film even more offensive than if an African American is utilizing their stereotypes to produce comedy because it brings racial oppression into the mix. “This is especially true when that character is portrayed as an ignorant, sexist, semi-literate, homophobic peacock who condones drug use and car crime and is obsessed by both designer labels and the size of his penis” (Howells, 2006).

One film that has a white actor who uses black stereotypes to portray his character is in “Malibu’s Most Wanted.” Jamie Kennedy plays a white rich boy who wants to be black so he wears stereotypical African American clothes like Fubu. Furthermore, he acquires a “black” accent and is extremely ignorant throughout the whole film. He calls himself B-Rad and attempts to be a rapper. However, this film also is clearly making fun of the white male race who try to be African American.  Throughout the film he is ridiculed by the African American race and his vulnerability is what makes the film humorous.  He is kidnapped by African Americans and shown the real life of the inner city hoping to scare him into becoming more ‘white’. By even insinuating that he’s not white, is racial oppression on both the Caucasian and African American race. The fact that he is not accepted is racial oppression to Caucasian, and the fact that he is utilizing offensive stereotypes to ‘act black’ is racial oppression to African Americans.

In conclusion, comedies portray races using typical offensive stereotypes. Whether they are Asian, African American, or Caucasian, modern day comedies use race as a source of comedy. However, why this may be true the fact that we can talk about it as a society gives us hope. “If race is indeed the new sex, the fact that we are getting better at discussing it openly-and even allowing ourselves to have a sense of humor about it-does indeed suggest that there is hope yet that, like sex before it, we might just be able to break out from one of our most constraining social taboos.  We needn’t always be embarrassed to talk about race in the future” (Howells, 2006).

Ji Hoon, P., Gabbadon, N. G., & Chernin, A. R. (2006). Naturalizing Racial Differences Through Comedy: Asian, Black, and White Views on Racial Stereotypes in Rush Hour 2. Journal Of Communication, 56(1).

Howells, R. (2006). ‘Is it Because I is Black?’ Race, Humour and the Polysemiology of Ali G. Historical Journal Of Film, Radio & Television, 26(2), 155-177.


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