Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"Laughing Matters" Forming an Asian American consciousness through comedy

hinking outside of the box seems like an easy task for Margaret Cho, Eliot Chang, Los-Angles based Asian American comedic theater group: hereandnow, and other Asian American comedians and troops. Racial topics in comedy (particularly stand-up, sketch, and improv) have been launched into the mainstream and made accessible for both white and non-white audiences through comedians of color. Dave Chapelle, George Lopez, Chris Rock, Margaret Cho (just to name a few) offer bold and essential critiques to race (as well as gender, class, sexuality, etc.) in the United States through their comedy.

Asian American comedians are rapidly hitting the mainstream, pop culture circuit. Koren-American comedian Margaret Cho is a staple in the line-up of big name comedians. Her comedy touches on a variety of topics from her Korean-American mother to her sexuality to politics. In her sketch “Asian American” (featured in her special: “I’m the One that I Want”) there are a lot of things going on within her comedy. She brilliantly intertwines race, gender, relationships, family, friends, physical appearance and other items into her grab bag of sketch comedy. In a number of her sketches Cho explicitly talks about her sexuality in which she has been in relationships and slept with both men and women. I think it’s awesome and powerful to see that one of the most infamous comedians of our generation is an openly queer, Korean-American woman. Go Margaret.

There are many similar themes that both Margaret Cho and Eliot Chang and other Asian American comedians include in their comedy. Topics around family, inter-racial dating, race/racial discrimination, feelings of “otherness” growing up, gender roles, sexuality, class, inter-generational connect and disconnect, basically their comedy is all over of the spectrum. How they help in forming an Asian American consciousness through their comedy is multifaceted. First, they give voice. They as individual, in a lot of ways, reflect a collective Asian American voice speaking against and for . Through comedy, they are able to reach a variety of audiences and bring important topics/issues to the table more directly than may other medium.

What I think that Asian comedians do that’s particularly important is challenge our thinking around comedy and the ways “comedy” has been commodified and packaged. Who are the images in comedy and how has this been racialized? In what ways is this problematic?
The white-black paradigm of comedy has changed, we as views and consumers must include Latino comedians (i.e. George Lopez, Latin Kings of Comedy), and Asian American in the discourse around smart and daring comedians. Eliot Chang in his sketch “Oh Shit, He’s Asian” talks about “representing the nation” and how as an Asian male, he’s automatically not expected to be funny. I’d definitely encourage you to watch the links! <---Eliot Chang
more Margaret Cho'

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