That 'Single Asians' Video and Other Cultural Comedy

April 13, 2009

Humor performed by people of color about people of color isn't anything new, of course. Comedians of color -- Carlos Mencia, Dave Chappelle, etc. -- have made careers out of making
race jokes, lampooning their various cultural heritages by drawing on
stereotypes that seem edgy when coming from non-white mouths but
which have ultimately been constructed by white society's
interpretation of non-white groups.

The same plays out, I've noticed, within groups of people who share
similar cultural/ethnic heritages. Whenever I'm in a group of young
Filipino-Americans, for example, not ten minutes passes without a tabo
joke made or a FOB-ish accent attempted -- much to the delight of
others in the group who seemingly never tire of hearing the same jokes
made, arguably at their expense, on a regular basis. I'm guilty of it

And it seems harmless enough. At best, in-house
race/culture jokes actually do speak to our experiences and/or serve as a
way to bond (albeit tastelessly and superficially) with people who
understand how you grew up or what kind of home you live in. We do it in life, and comedians do it on television.

the very prevalence and popularity of this kind of humor makes me wonder why
so many AsAms have taken offense to this particular video, despite an
unwavering appreciation of Margaret Cho's often self-loathing race
jokes. I suspect that the difference has to do with Cho's accepted role
as an "insider"; we tend to think that she's speaking to us, rather than to
non-AsAms about us (though the latter is probably more accurate). The
women in this video, on the other hand, don't specify their intended
audience -- and their affiliation with Yale, a mostly white university,
definitely doesn't grant them insider status. As a result, we are
perhaps hyperaware of the hackneyed, eurocentric stereotypes which they

And, while the stereotypes definitely are hackneyed and eurocentric, the underlying issue here is deeper than a common recognition of blatant prejudice. The bottom line is: It doesn't matter if those jokes come from the mouth of
an insider or not, because ultimately those jokes weren't conceived by one.
Jokes that poke fun at "Engrish"  are understandly (though not rightfully) funny to white
people, for example, because they point out aspects of Asian culture(s) that are so
apparently different from mainstream white culture that they seem
ridiculous by comparison -- and people like to point out difference as much
as they love to affirm their normativity.

On the other hand, people of color who make
similar jokes (the women in this video, for example) are just regurgitating
the same old shit that white people have been saying about us for as
long as they've cared to recognize our existence.

I don't mean to imply that
we second and third generation folk are simply the unwitting victims of
our hegemonic society, or that all of the jokes we make at our expense
are self-loathing. Rather, I am critical of a particular kind of humor,
constructed by whites, and adopted by us. I suspect that our compulsion
to make those kinds of jokes has more to do with our own desire to
affirm our own normativity by laughing at difference. When we associate
Beijing with dry cleaning or posit the tabo as laughable, we aren't,
after all, making fun of ourselves, are we? We're making fun of our
parents and grandparents, and a country and culture that we don't
really understand, because we've never really been a part of it.  

adherence to and perpetuation of stereotypes likes those in the video
seem to say less about our comical cultural similarities than they do
about our own lack of cultural awareness and identity. They aren't an
expression of our cultural heritage, but a statement about our
disconnection from it. And there's really nothing funny about that.


Here are the complete lyrics:

Mixed Company of Yale

"Single Asians"

All the single Asians
All the single Asians
All the single Asians
All the single Asians
All the single Asians

Now put your hands up
Library and CDB
Test comin' up next week.
You dropped a flask,
And now I've gotta ask
If you're enough to be in a lab with me.

I need this grade.
I've never been late,
Because I live my life for med school.
I do bio-chem
On the weekends
You ain't hardcore enough for me.

Cause if you like me
Then you shoulda got an A on it.
Cause if you like me
Then you shoulda got an A on it,
An A-minus
Ain't the same as an A is it?
Cause if you like me
Then you shoulda got an A on it.

[lots of Oh's]

Let's make some noise
For all the boys
Who have yellow fever.
I'll be Lucy Liu
Or Sailor Moon
A geisha just for you.

At the restaurant
I'll taste your sauce
And you can slurp my sushi.
I like it raw,
So bring it on,
And me love you long time.

We from Beijing,
We dry cleaning,
And practice Viorin.
We visit Yale,
We bring peace there,
And take picture at the Beinecke.

I make the rice,
(She make it nice)
Cause I'm in charge of Dim Sum!!!
I make Chai Tea.
I do Tai Chi.
And bring honor to our family.


Catherine A Traywick

Managing Editor

Catherine is the managing editor at Hyphen. Her work has appeared in TIME, the Bay Citizen, Ms. magazine, he Huffington Post, as well as broadcasted on CBS radio. She is a master's student at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.



"Rather, I am critical of a particular kind of humor, constructed by whites, and adopted by us."Totally.
euugh. racial identity is a long process. it's just embarrassing when it's acted out and witnessed in public. total cringe.
There is no deep meaning or commentary behind the video. It is an example of Asian American youth who internalize racism, stereotypes, and do what they can to fit in, even if it means being a complete Uncle Tom Asian.This video is as self-racist and pandering as anything Bai Ling does, Esther Ku's entire standup act, or the movies 'Red Doors' or 'Falling for Grace'. They are probably as clueless as that Asian kid in the Miley Cyrus picture.[Rather, I am critical of a particular kind of humor, constructed by whites, and adopted by us......they say less about our comical cultural similarities than they do about our own lack of cultural awareness and identity. ]It's disheartening to see how common it is for Asian Americans to laugh along or perpetuate racist jokes (constructed by or for Whites). Even for a lot of Russell Peters jokes, I don't think it's funny when Asian Americans laugh along to them; on some of those jokes they're basically mocking their own parents or accented relatives.
that was an interesting read. i never really understood the lyrics because i didn't listen. i got goosebumps of embarrassment when watching the video. but now that i read the lyrics, i'm not all that amused. i'm actually angry that people who i thought were well educated decide to do something like perpetrate stereotypes. i can understand that it is supposed to be humor but from what i see and understand, it's shallow.
While there are tons of jokes that were constructed by whites and are accepted by AsAms, there are so many that come out of our own experiences. My tabo jokes are about being in public (white) bathrooms and REALLY wanting one, or even poking fun at one side of my family who uses squirt bottles. That's wierd/funny on TABO/FILIPINO terms, not on any western white ones.There needs to be that room to process OUR experiences, and not chalk it up to 'the white man'.
this video grosses me out...