The comedian and host Colbert discussed race jokes.
During Margaret Cho’s appearance on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show last night, an innocent conversation about rescue dogs turned into a far more interesting conversation about race when Cho made a joke about the racist assumption that Koreans eat dogs. In her anecdote, Cho was running into a busy street to save a dog from being run over. Referring to the drivers who watched her heroic effort, she said, with a straight face, “They must’ve been like, ‘Oh, she must be hungry.’”
“That is a joke, for instance, that I couldn’t make,” said Colbert, redirecting the interview to address “political correctness”.
Cho’s joke, however, didn’t target Koreans. The butt of the joke is the racist—the drivers in their cars, thinking these racist things. And that’s what matters most about provocative comedy: Who’s being mocked? Is the comedian punching up or punching down?
Cho is Korean, which affects the way the joke is perceived by her audience. In fact, Cho said, it can force the audience to interrogate their own racial assumptions—like when, for example, she jokes about being a good Asian driver.
“Do you think it might just be better if everybody just started with a baseline of, I’m just going to assume I’m racist when I’m talking about a race that isn’t mine?” Colbert asked. “Because I don’t know what that experience is like, and I have presuppositions about what it is like to be someone of another race or the behavior of another race. If I think of a person as part of a race and not as an individual.”
“You shouldn’t have to worry about it too much, I think,” Cho replied. “What’s really annoying is that nobody really cared about race until white people got involved, and now all we do is talk about race.” She added, “It’s like, all the white fragility is so annoying. You’ve got to walk on eggshells around white people. It was so much easier—”
“Oh, white people, walk on eggshells—that is so racist,” Colbert joked. “Why? Because we’re white and eggs are white? You’ve got a problem.”
Watch the clip below.