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Thu September 19, 2013
An Open Call: Send Us Your Favorite Comedy Routines About Race
During one of our morning editorial meetings here at Code Switch, we chuckled heartily at this bit from Dave Chappelle's ongoing comeback tour. In this recording, Chappelle was recalling a conversation with a mixed-race couple in the front row of a recent performance. The comedian wanted to know: Where are you from?*
"The wife was obviously Asian. The husband his [expletive] was more mysterious. Might have been Mexican, might have been from Bangladesh — could have gone a lot of different ways.
"And the wife said 'Listen, I'm from right here in the United States, OK? If you're asking my ethnicity, I'm Chinese.'
"Then the husband was like, 'I'm Mexican, bro.'
"And I said ... 'You guys are going to give birth to the hardest-working baby that's ever lived!' "
The old saw goes that writing about comedy is like dancing about architecture. But let's take a second to admire what Chappelle is doing here — he's pointing to a common question Asian-Americans get about their presumed foreign-ness (and the annoyed reaction prompted by that question) while still acknowledging the nagging curiosity people have about folks who look ethnically ambiguous.
Then Chappelle riffs on the premise some more and wonders aloud about how to make his punchline even funnier.
"Now, obviously that's a joke. The wife got really mad. Now listen, I respect Asian culture tremendously. As a matter of fact, I recently went to China for several weeks. ... I saw the Great Wall. If you're here [in the audience] and you're Chinese, all I can say is: Congratulations, it's a great wall. It's outstanding! It's huge! Largest man-made object on Earth. You have to see it to really wrap your mind around it, because I didn't even know the ancient Chinese even had Mexicans and things like this.
"Now ladies and gentlemen, you see what I did? I'm not saying for a second that Mexicans built the Great Wall of China — that would be a bad joke. What I am saying is that the ancient Chinese built the Great Wall to keep Mexicans out of China. Now that's a real joke! That's pretty [expletive] funny."
So much of the most incisive and subversive commentary about race continues to come from comedians, whether it's Louis C.K. acidly explaining how white privilege works with a hypothetical time machine (NSFW) or Hari Kondabalu taking issue with uninspired racism against Mexican-Americans. It's all the stuff we write about here.
We're trying to round up the best recent bits about race — sketches, videos, stand-up routines — especially from up-and-coming performers.
So, Code Switch readers, consider this an open call for links to routines and sketches. You can send them to us on Twitter (@NPRCodeSwitch) and post them to us below in the comments (with a time stamp for any YouTube videos).
Tell us what it is that you think makes it so smart and insightful about race and ethnicity.