Race and Comedy

However you slice it you can’t deny that race makes for good jokes. In fact joking behavior was one of the first topics I became interested in as an anthropologist and before I went into field I spent a lot of time doing research on the anthropology of jokes. I wound up studying theater instead, but I still have a soft spot of humor that makes light of what makes us uncomfortable.

The other days one of the students in class sent me this video of South African comedian Trevor Noah and it is hilarious. Check out how he lays out multiple realities of blackness all while his character, himself, is searching for a singular “real” black.

That clip brought back memories of one of my favorite examples of race comedy from Gary Owen. Thy say 10 o’clock on a Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America…

This Dave Chappelle clip on Native Americans, like the Owen and Taylor clips above keeps with the same narrative technique. The comedian’s character has this experience where he is ignorant of the “other” culture and we laugh at him as he makes mistakes, which in turn reveals assumptions that we make about those other people without realizing it.

A couple of years ago there was a troupe of Middle Eastern comedians that went on tour as the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour. I was trying to find one the Iranian comedian who says all his friends pretend to be Italian, but this one is pretty good. There’s also a clip out there somewhere where one of the Arab comedians say they’re holding tryouts for a North Korean.

If you’ve got a favorite YouTube clip on the topic of race and comedy share it in the comments section below. Just copy and paste the URL into the textbox and Worpress will do the rest.

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About Matt Thompson

Matt Thompson is a project cataloger at The Mariners' Museum library. He has a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill and was formerly a professor at ODU. You can find him on Twitter @m4ttTh0mps0n.
This entry was posted in Language, Performance, Race and Racism. Bookmark the permalink.

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