Are race jokes funny?

By Anubhuti Kumar, Staff Writer

From “Fresh Off the Boat” to “Blackish” and “The Carmichael Show,” popular sitcoms starring minorities bring a new perspective to the comedy genre. Networks are choosing to bring talented actors of color to prime time television, portraying stories and characters that have been previously under represented. Audiences are choosing to watch these stories that characterize minorities, and the success of these shows demonstrates the growing acceptance of diversity in television.

Recent diverse and fresh TV content has been appreciated by audiences, but some criticize these new shows as using the issue of race as a punchline. These shows have the potential to garner easy laughs based on negative stereotypes. For example, Jessica Huang, the matriarch of the Huang family of “Fresh Off the Boat” can often be seen as a typical tiger mom such as insisting her children learn the violin. Her accent has also been criticized by many as being a stereotypic mimicking of an Asian accent and that it lacks authenticity.

Though “Blackish,” “Fresh Off the Boat” and “The Carmichael Show” find some of their humor in basing jokes on these stereotypes, they also portray the depth of individuals beyond just their race. Having entire shows dedicated to the subcultures of minorities and the unique challenges they face allows the stories to go beyond flat stereotypes and into three-dimensional characters. Humor is a more effective tool to get audiences to listen, rather than preaching.

Again, Jessica is a prime example. She fits the stereotype of a controlling and dominating mother who could not see past her children’s academic success, but as the first season concluded, the show depicted the emotions and parenting decisions that go behind her decisions. Jessica’s husband is busy with his restaurant, and she feels the full burden of responsibility to discipline her children, and she does this in the only way she knows how, which is the way she was raised. She forces them to do what she thinks is best for them because she wants them to be comfortable and successful in life and because she has struggled when she and her husband emmigrated from Taiwan. As the audience sees Jessica work towards getting her realtor’s license, they see how dedicated she is to her career.

This new crop of sitcoms helps illustrate that minorities are more than stereotypes by presenting why such stereotypes exist. For example, the trope that Asians are innately good at math and string instruments stems from the utility in these two fields. By having stories that center around race on television, networks might pull in views with laughs at the sake of stereotypes, but they hold audiences with the depiction of relatable characters and the commonalities of the human existence, rather tAre han focusing on surface level differences.    

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday Oct. 22 print edition. Email Anubhuti at [email protected]