Thursday, August 27, 2009

Is Peter Chao racist? You be the judge

Vancouver-based comedian Peter Chao has amassed a significant following on youtube with his fobby rants. They're funny enough if you're into Chinese accents and humour based almost entirely on ethnic stereotypes.

He was recently suspended temporarily due to one of his posts in which he dons blackface and pretends to be his black friend "Jamal Jenkins". I guess someone thought it was too racist to be on youtube; interesting considering youtube is perhaps the most racist environment you can ever experience.

Below is the offending video, now back online. It's an endless parade of stereotypes - but is he mocking black people, or mocking the stereotypes? I'm inclined to think the latter. Judge for yourself.

After being suspended, Chao posted this:

Like this? You may like:

Racial humour - is it ever ok?

Comebacks to racist and stereotypical comments

Eliot Chang: Racist questions

Joe Wong on Letterman

Random comic genius: My Black Friend

White People Problems


  1. Ugh. It's like the problem with hipster racism. Regurgitating racist stereotypes so you can make fun of them is still regurgitating racist stereotypes. It's still racism.

  2. Thanks Macon, I get what you are saying.
    I'm not sure I agree with your main point though - I think there is plenty of space for comedians to bring up racial stereotypes as a way of making fun of them. But the problem for me is that due to the highly subjective nature of humour, some people misinterpret the comic's intention and take it as racism, or even believe the stereotype.
    But this video certainly walks a fine line in my book.

  3. Thanks in return, and I see what you're saying.

    I do think, though, that effects are more important than intentions. OTOH, I wonder about free speech issues -- I do think the best antidote for free speech I don't like is more free speech, as they say. But then, so many supposedly ironic or mocking reiterations of stereotypes end up, for many, helping to reinforce those stereotypes. I think that in some forums, such stuff should be banned.

    So yeah, I walk back and forth a lot across that fine line.

  4. yo Chris, this dude is funny. Really funny. He is a genius.
    As 4 Macon i wouldnt hestiate to bitch slap him! I'm Chinese and I dont mind, problem w ppl like him is his stick is so far up his ass he cant stop to enjoy the funny things in life. Peter Chao is so funny. Cracks me up.
    If Macon is not Chinese he has no right to get touchy.

  5. Stash, please don't bitch slap anyone. Respectfully, I think you've missed an important point here. The racism in the video regarding black people is more of an issue than the racism regarding Chinese people. Wearing black make-up and acting like a gangsta stereotype is not going to go down well with a lot of black people. I believe that is what Macon is referring to.

    Make sure you fully understand what's being said before you bring on the verbal abuse please.

  6. So... this isn't much different from Dave Chappelle powdering his face to be a white guy. It plays off old forms of racism. But through comedy it spotlights racist beliefs that many people still have. In fact it could be seen as making fun of people who say "I have a lot of black neighbors, I'm not racist." "I have a black friend, I'm not racist." "I work with a black lady, I'm not racist." But in reality any and all of those people could be racist -- but not ever let it bubble to the surface. Which is much nastier. And harder to address. Bring it to the surface I say! The only way to move forward is to feel comfortable communicating about these issues. And comedy can get us a long way toward comfortable communication. Go Peter Chao! I love Peter Chao videos!

  7. I tend to agree with that appraisal - although I'm hardly surprised that someone named "Peter Chao Videos" is pro-Peter Chao on this one.

  8. He's funny but I just wish he would tone down his vulgar language and disrespectful attitude towards women, other ethnicities and his own parents. Thing like that are no doubt funny and popular amongst his enormous fanbase, but certainly should not be applauded. I mean we are basically condoning all men to use women for sex and call our own parents whores and what not. That is basically the kind of message he is sending out to the world. Still, I do believe he has considerable talent and deserves high praise for what he has accomplished so far. I just question the route he took to get to internet star status.

  9. Screw the double standard. Why cant people make fun of blacks? Blacks do it all the time to other races. What if they made the movie Black Chicks instead of White Chicks? Think that would go well? But no White Chicks is ok. Blacks always revert to racism for everything.

    1. (I know this post is old, but I want to enlighten Anonymous (Dec 16)...)

      @Anonymous (Dec 16), think about it, have other races ever gone through as much racism and suffering as the black people have? Do other races have as many offensive stereotypes as black people?

      "Why cant people make fun of blacks?" If you explored the Internet and the South more, you'll find that those two places are the mecca for racism against black people. There is no double standard. Black people are constantly made fun of. People do make fun of black people and it's the other races that they aren't allowed to make fun of. Being a racist on Youtube is the only way to get respect. Being a racist on Youtube is like being a respected ruler. Plus, if you have black stereotypes on Youtube, it's okay. If you have stereotypes for other races, it's offensive. If you have racial slurs for black people, it's okay. If you have racial slurs for other races, it's offensive.

      "Blacks always revert to racism for everything." Really? Where's the citation?

      I'm not even black, so don't call me biased. You may call me ignorant, but what I said does happen all the time.

  10. @ Anonymous (Dec 16) - I agree that black people should not be free from parody. However, I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but black folks have a history of disenfranchisement and generally being f***ed over. So they are gonna be a bit sensitive about things that appear to demean them - that shouldn't be too difficult to understand.

  11. I'm Asian and I find Peter Chao very offensive. I was born and bred in Australia FYI. The problem with Chao is that uses the "Chinese English accent" as his main focus of humour, it's not funny to use something which has been steeped in Racism for Chinese people. What people fail to recognize is that this "voice" is the "Black-face" for Asians in Western culture. The problem with doing Blackface is that there's a history behind it, of White people painting their faces black as a way to portray blackness/difference as a point of humour and something "stupid". If people find that funny they need to reconsider why. Is it racist if a bunch of Asians painted their faces white on Hong Kong tv and paraded around as characters that slept with every single person they see, and an Asian audience found that to be hilarious? Yes it would be extremely racist, it's depicting the "different" behaviour of White people in the eyes of conservative Asians as being overly-sexed bunch of people who have in the Asian eyes " no morals". Here Chao does the same, the lovely accent of Chinese people is not something funny, it's just an accent, the painting of your face black is not funny, because being black isn't funny. If you think it's funny you are viewing them as a "lesser form of you" therefore something to laugh at. That is racist.

  12. @ Anonymous (Dec 24) - are you saying that doing accents is never funny and is intrinsically racist?

    No one is saying you have to like this form of humour, but I have to strongly disagree with you on that point.

    The Chinese accent can be funny. The Australian accent can be funny. Any accent can. Finding the humour in it does not make someone racist. As an example, many Malaysians find their own variant of English (Manglish) to be funny. Which it is. Do they hate themselves?

    Check out Jo Koy's standup routing about his mother. He imitates her Filipino accent, and it is done with real affection. I've posted it here:

  13. @Eurasian Sensation

    I believe Peter Chao puts on a Yellowface in his videos, let alone this lone Black one. I find his humour, being an Asian myself, offensive. He uses his "accent" as the POINT of humour, spitting everywhere and doing vulgar things. As though Asians ARE vulgar, are stupid, are a people to laugh and poke fun at.

    As opposed to MyChonny (also a youtube celeb), who uses the Chinese or Vietnamese accent not as the point of humour but as a vehicle for character expression - being his Father or Mother for example. - they themselves, the characters, are funny.

    I think this is where Russell Peters does the same thing. Even when he describes the different accents, it's not done in a way that "pokes fun" at the accents, but as a way to describe the "characters" behind the accents - whether those "characters" are Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Jamaican or Indian.

    Using an accent as a point of humour, positions those without an "accent"(could be argued who doesn't have an accent?) as "normal" or "sane", and anyone else "other". Usually characters who are portrayed as "insane" or "dumb" talk with a "stupid accent" - e.g. The Cookie Monster from Sesame Street.

    Peter Chao stupidly perpetrates racism, allowing others to LAUGH at his ethnicity and culture.

  14. @ Yellowflag:
    thanks for your contribution, you raise some interesting points. The distinction you make between making fun of an accent, and using accents to express a character, is one worthy of consideration.

    Peter Chao is not really to my taste (take away the accent and there is not that much humour, really). And I haven't watched enough of him to conclusively judge him. I would question a couple of the issues you raise, however:

    Regarding him spitting everywhere and doing vulgar things - does this say that all Asians are like this? Or is it mocking a stereotype of a certain kind of Asian? I have encountered plenty of Asian guys like that, but certainly I know that most are not.
    I wonder if it is being overly sensitive to assume that people are being encouraged to see all Asians in this way.

    Regarding using accents as a point of humour - as you say, everyone has an accent. I have heard comedians mock my country's accent (Australian), and can find it funny - so long as they do it well and with some cleverness. If it is being used just to mock an ethnic group and make them look stupid, then it has little artistic merit.

    To my mind Peter Chao is somewhere between those two. I'm not completely convinced he is making fun of Asians; more a type of Asian.

    But you may be right. I'm still undecided.

  15. Im Hispanic and I think racism is funny. At the end of the day if you don't like it then don't watch it. There are many of us who find it hysterical are you trying to deprive us of something that makes us laugh? Racism is a laughing matter because its stupid and humans are foolish enough to take it serious. Ultimately we are all human no matter our race so lighten up and chill. CHAO OUTSIDE MUTHA FUKA

  16. ultimately it's the way we react to it, which decides if it is racist or not.. i dont...

  17. ^ Interesting point. But given that some will find it racist and some won't, what do we make of that? Do we assume that because some find it offensive, that it is?
    Or do we assume that those that are offended are just too sensitive?
    No answers from me, just questions!

  18. I'm Asian and at first I was offended, but later on I found him hilarious and subscribed. It really depends on how you look at it. If you look at it from a serious perspective, you're going to be offended. If you take it as a joke lightly, you'll be laughing. I take it all as a joke. I think Peter Chao is more like mocking stereotypes and racism rather than stereotyping and being racist himself. He's showing how ridiculous stereotyping is. He just shows it in a very, very different way...

    His name is not Peter Chao, by the way, and his accent is obviously fake.

  19. btw Char Peter Chao is his real name and he does speak that way. trust me i know.

  20. Peter Chao is one of my favorite YouTubers! I just made a video with him: