The satirist and popular television personality Stephen Colbert is coming under heavy fire for an anti-Asian joke he made on his show The Colbert Report, which has prompted many social media users to call for the show to be cancelled.
On the Wednesday episode of The Colbert Report, Colbert jokingly said that he sought to make amends with the Asian community, which had been offended by an old Colbert character named Ching Chong Ding Dong. The character, which Colbert himself played, sought to play up Western stereotypes of Asian and specifically Chinese people.
On Wednesday’s show, Colbert said that: “my show has frequently come under attack for having a so-called offensive mascot, my beloved character Ching Chong Ding Dong… Offensive or not — NOT — Ching Chong is part of the unique heritage of the Colbert Nation that cannot change. But I’m willing to show the Asian community that I care by introducing the Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”
Colbert’s skit was made in the context of an actual foundation that Dan Snyder, the owner of the NFL Football team the Washington Redskins, had created to try and mollify anger among many Native Americans over the team’s name, which many charge as being racist toward Native Americans. Before announcing the creation of his own fake foundation, Colbert had noted that Snyder had created the “Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.” Colbert then remarked “That’s right, the ‘Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.’ Because Redskins is not offensive if you only use it once in your name.”
He then proceeded to announce the creation of the Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation to mollify the Asian community’s anger over his character Ching Chong Ding Dong. @ColbertReport, a Twitter account that is run by staff at Comedy Central, the network on which The Colbert Report appears, later tweeted out: “I am willing to show the #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.” (@ColbertReport has since deleted the tweet and clarified multiple times that the Twitter account was not run by Stephen Colbert or any of his staff members but rather by Comedy Central.)
Before it was deleted, it sparked anger among many social media users who charged the show with racism against Asians, and began the hashtag #CancelColbert. The hashtag was quickly picked up by conservative blogger and Asian American Michelle Makin, who called on her nearly 700,000 Twitter followers to “co-sign.” The hashtag was soon trending on Twitter and remains so at the time of this writing. It has also become a trending topic on Facebook.
On both social media sites, a fierce discussion has ensued between those who claim that satire doesn’t excuse racist comments, and defenders of Colbert who point out that he uses comedy to highlight actual racism and isn’t racist himself. Colbert himself joined in the conversation from his personal Twitter account, @StephenAtHome, by tweeting: “#CancelColbert – I agree! Just saw @ColbertReport tweet. I share your rage. Who is that, though?”
— Stephen Colbert (@StephenAtHome) March 28, 2014
Comedy Central, which is owned by Viacom — a massive media company that also runs MTV, Paramount Pictures, and BET Entertainment — doesn’t appear to have commented at this time on the calls for Colbert’s show to be cancelled.
It’s worth noting that a somewhat similar controversy erupted back in October 2013 when The Jimmy Kimmel Show featured a skit in which a little kid suggested that the best way to deal with America’s debt to China was to “kill everyone in China.” Jimmy Kimmel later apologized on-air and in writing as did ABC, the network on which his show airs. ABC also removed the skit from its website and promised not to air it in future broadcasts. China’s state media covered the Jimmy Kimmel controversy extensively over the course of months, and one suspects that the Colbert controversy may be quite similar.