EDITORIAL: Racially charged comedy is no laughing matter

Kids say the darndest things. On Oct. 16, Jimmy Kimmel Live on ABC-TV aired a segment called “Kid’s Table” in which the comedian asked a panel of young children how America should pay back the $1.3 trillion it owes China.

“Kill all the people in China,” was one boy’s solution to America’s debt problem.

“That’s an interesting idea,” responded Kimmel.

The kids thought this was hilarious. So did Kimmel and the audience, although maybe for different reasons.

The exchange was disturbing on several levels. This may pass as dark humor to some adults, given the complete absurdity of the idea of killing everyone in China. But one has to wonder, do American children actually consider killing everyone as a possible way out of our problem? It’s hard to know.

The local API community in Seattle’s International District and throughout the region were forced to endure a grim reminder of killing as a solution to a problem when the recent news that Wai-Chiu “Tony” Ng, convicted in the 1983 Wah Mee massacre, will soon be paroled from prison. His partners, Fai “Willie” Mak and Benjamin Ng, are serving life sentences for the crime, in which they robbed 14 people in the Wah Mee club, and then shot them all, presumably to leave no witnesses. One victim survived and was able to identify the three to police. Killing everyone in the club — that was their solution for escape. Do children consider this method of problem solving viable? Is it easier when the “everyone” is a group of people far removed or different looking?

Maybe this only bothers people in the Asian community, or maybe even only people of Chinese descent. That’s possible, but how would it feel to hear children say, “kill all the Jews?” or “Kill all black people?” What if someone in some other country went on a popular TV show and said, “Kill everyone in Seattle?” That brings the chill closer to home.

Reaction to the skit was immediate and strong. Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) Chair Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27) released the following statement condemning the segment:

“I understand the jovial nature of a comedy show, but jokes about killing over 1 billion Chinese people are no laughing matter. This type of xenophobic rhetoric can cause dangerous ramifications for the Asian American community. Although the show’s producers could not have predicted how the children would respond, Jimmy Kimmel and the ABC Network should not have allowed the segment to air. Comments referring to genocide should not be repeated, laughed at, or tolerated. I am disappointed Mr. Kimmel and ABC chose to air a segment that clearly crossed a line and the Asian American community deserves an apology.”

CAPAC Chair Emeritus Rep. Mike Honda (CA-17) also commented: “The ABC network recently allowed comedian Jimmy Kimmel to air a skit in which a group of children suggested that ‘we kill everyone in China’ to avoid paying back the national debt. Some things are funny, but racial hatred is not one of them. These statements, left unchecked, promote intolerance, and I am concerned that the producers of Mr. Kimmel’s program allowed this to air. Children may not know better, but producers and ABC’s management should.”

Meanwhile, an online petition at “We the People” (petitions.whitehouse.gov) titled “Investigate Jimmy Kimmel Kid’s Table Government Shutdown Show on ABC Network” was created, calling for the segment to be cut from the show and an apology issued. As of Oct. 30, nearly 74,000 people had signed it. The petition needs 100,000 signatures by Nov. 18 for it to be reviewed and responded to by the U.S. administration, according to the website.

Kimmel is pretty funny most of the time, but celebrity comedians with huge audiences have certain responsibilities that require sensitive thinking, especially involving members of communities already plagued by racial discrimination and negative stereotyping.

On Oct. 25, ABC finally issued a “sincere apology” in response to a complaint by the 80-20 National Asian American Political Action committee. “We would never purposefully broadcast anything to upset the Chinese community, Asian community, anyone of Chinese descent or any community at large,” ABC wrote. “Our objective is to entertain.”

In the apology ABC said they took “swift action to minimize the distribution of the skit by removing it from all platforms and editing it out of any future airings of the show.”

The two-week-long backlash finally was noticed by Kimmel himself, who, on Oct. 29, said of the skit, “I’m sorry, I apologize, it was certainly not my intent to upset anyone.” (end)

One Response to “EDITORIAL: Racially charged comedy is no laughing matter”

  1. John Carpine says:

    Really? Chinese American people are “plagued by racial discrimination and negative stereotyping”? Really? A message to the professional victims and the perpetually offended: In a free society where you are allowed and even encouraged to speak your mind (unlike communist China), there will be things said that may offend you. The idea behind humor is to be absurd, shocking, irreverent and ironic. You will of course retort “There’s nothing funny about killing an entire nation of people”. To which I would say “you’re right” but that was not the point of the skit. The point was the absurdity of the shocking remark made by the naive toddler. You realize of course that the only effective way to ensure that no one broadcasts anything to upset the Chinese community, Asian community, anyone of Chinese descent or any other community for that matter, would be to adopt a system of governing where the press and all broadcasting (internet too) is censored and controlled by the central government.
    Sound familiar?

    I sincerely welcome and encourage people of all races and national origin to come to the US and see what democracy looks like. Its full of raucous open debate. People often get offended. We have the right to express how offended we might be. What we don’t have is the ability to go to the authorities and demand that people who offend us be censored.
    Maybe we should build an “education camp” to house people like Kimmel who offend us. Where do you think we might find the plans to build such a camp?
    I think you know where.

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