by Kristan Tate
The third season of comedian Dave Chappelle’s sketch comedy, ‘Chappelle’s Show,’ was wrought with much controversy. Not only did Chappelle, also the host of the show, leave during its filming for reasons still speculated on today, but the racial content of some of the sketches shown were arguably of a certain degree stronger than precursory seasons (Chappelle). The season’s second episode, especially, included a particularly controversial sketch, the racial nature of which worried even Chappelle. This sketch, widely known as The Race Pixie, created such discomfort within its participants, that, following its showing, the new hosts of the show (regular cast-members Charlie Murphy and Donnell Rawlings) entertained a discussion with the audience on its comedic worth. This conversation, which was shown on television along with the sketch, provides valuable insight into the effectiveness of ethnically-centered comedy on the social and ethical grand scheme.
Prior to showing the sketch, Murphy opened with the explanation, “Hey, have you ever been in a situation where you may have felt, like, racially insecure?” to which an audience member off-stage clapped. Rawlings commented, “And that was a white guy, too,” to which the two hosts, and the majority of the audience, laughed. Murphy then continues, “Now I’m talking about a situation where… you actually alter your behavior because you’re afraid of the way… someone of a different color may react… they possibly may think that you’re living up to a stereotype. Check this shit out.”
The sketch begins with Chappelle, an African-American, seated in an airborne airplane, and a flight attendant asking him whether he wants chicken or fish for his meal. Immediately, a miniature version of Chappelle, with notably darker skin and dressed in an ensemble reminiscent of a black-face tap dancer, appears onto the scene and screams in the accent of a stereotypical African-American at Chappelle “Woooooooooo-weeeeeeee! I just heard the magic words! Chicken! Go on and order you a big bucket, nigga, and take a bite! You black mutha-fucka!” He then proceeds to tap dance in boundless joy. Chappelle looks ashamed throughout, and then calmly tells the attendant that he’ll have the fish. The pixie, livid, exclaims, “You son of a bitch! You don’t want no fish!” The flight attendant then, realizing the plane is all out of fish, says as much to Chappelle, to which the pixie cries, “Back in the game, baby! You can’t beat fate, nigga! Get the chicken!” Chappelle then, stuttering a bit, asks the attendant how the chicken is prepared. The pixie leans in closely and extends his ear to the answer, which is “fried.” The pixie religiously shouts, “Hallelujah!” repeatedly, and then, “You big-lipped bitch!” Chappelle then, fighting back emotion, asks for chicken. The pixie yells, “Fried chicken! I need some music to this!” Generic banjo music starts to play, and the pixie begins to tap dance. He says, “Make way for the bird! Make way for the bird!” Chappelle looks at him and feels shame. The chicken comes, and the pixie reacts with, “Oohp! Chicken’s on the deck!” He whistles a sailor’s whistle and salutes, but his fun is cut short when Chappelle’s Caucasian neighbor offers him his dish of fish, to which Chappelle, with stifled emotion, graciously accepts. The banjo hits an inharmonious note, and the pixie laments, “Goddamn!” But then, realizing the type of fish presented, the banjo plays melodically and the pixie dances and sings, “Catfish! Catfish!” Chappelle protests that it isn’t catfish, but the pixie ignores him, dancing more and more exuberantly. Frustrated, Chappelle walks away and leaves the pixie to his own devices.
Another section of the skit then follows where the race pixie comments on some antics committed by the Yin Yang twins, “an Atlanta-based rap duo consisting of [African-American] brothers Kaine and D-Roc. Their music focuses on party, sexual and relationship themes, and is often quite vulgar” (Yaia). At one point, the duo is showing off their collection of monkey figurines, and the two scream like monkeys, to which the pixie says, “Never thought I’d say this, but I’m embarrassed!”
Rawlings then cautions the audience, “Don’t clap too soon Hispanic people, don’t get it twisted. We got an el Español Reggaeton pixie.”
This section begins with two Hispanics in a car-dealership’s shop, with one behind the counter and the other purchasing merchandise. The salesclerk asks the buyer if he would like to buy anything else for his car. The buyer responds with negation. The salesclerk mentions that the store recently received leopard-skin seat covers and, to the buyer’s horror, the race pixie appears, this time as a lighter-skinned, traditional mariachi-styled version, equipped with castanets, which he constantly shakes. His accent is that of a stereotypical Hispanic-American. He urges, “Come on, holmes! It’s fucking leopard, man. Leopard! How can you resist? Leopard.” The clerk confides, “Tell you what, I just got a hot order, and they fell off the back of a truck. Throw me 80 bucks. It’s a sweet deal. And I’ll throw in the Jesus air-freshener for free.” The pixie exclaims, “Santa Maria! Jesus! Do it! It’s leopard! Illegal leopard!” The buyer is visibly conflicted, and the pixie begins to dance more and more enthusiastically. The pixie continues, “Charo!” to which Charo, “the singer, musician and actress best known for her Latin sassiness [and] sexy outfits” (A&E Television Networks), appears and offers the pixie, in Spanish, cocaine. The pixie emphatically chooses the affirmative, in Spanish, and inhales. The buyer then yells at the pixie, in Spanish, that he is a bad influence and the devil. He then makes a hasty exit.
Rawlings further warns the audience, “It’s not over yet! Asian!”
The next section features an Asian man named Yoshi talking with Charlie Murphy. A woman comes over, to whom Murphy introduces to Yoshi as “Lala.” Lala greets him, “Hi, Yoshi.” Yoshi begins, “Hello…” Gongs sound and a samurai version of the pixie appears on Lala’s shoulder, complete with buck-tooth teeth, eating from what seems like a Chinese take-out box with chop-sticks. His accent is that of a stereotypical Asian-American. He suggests, “Carr her Rara. Carr her Rara! Herro, Rara.” Yoshi takes a breath and begins again, “Hello…” The pixie provides further examples. A fly is heard buzzing, and the pixie attempts to catch it with his chopsticks. He then begins to massage Lala’s shoulder to the effect of drumming, and whispers into Lala’s ear, “Herro Rara.” Finally, Yoshi responds, “Hello, gorgeous.” Livid, the pixie screams, “No! You have disgraced my famiry!” Then, grabbing his dagger, he performs seppuku, screaming, “I aporogize!”
Yet again, Rawlings admonishes the audience, ”Ah, no, no, no, no, no, no! It’s not over yet. White people, you’re not safe. We even got a white pixie. So this is for all the crackers that ain’t here! Roll it!”
This part begins with a few African-Americans seated at a table in a club. A Caucasian man walks over. One of the seated men addresses him, “Phil! What’s crackin’, son? I see you made it.” Phil responds, “What’s up, fellas?” A white-face version of the pixie appears dressed in a dress shirt, a tie, a sweater-vest, a plaid blazer, black pants and brown shoes: his clothes are mismatched. His accent is that of a stereotypical upper-class Caucasian-American. The pixie, horrified, says, “Oh my God. Three black guys. Well, you better hit ‘em with their own vernacular. Makes them feel more comfortable. Tell ‘em to give you a hug if he’s into getting rubbed. I heard that on the radio getting up here. Give you a hug and give him some rub. Tell him it’s his birthday. Then tell him you don’t give a fuck that it’s his birthday.” Phil is visibly agitated throughout. Another of the seated men comment on the great amount of females in the bar. Another seated man nods to a woman and says, “Phil, that’s all you, man. Go get that ass.” The pixie warns, “My God, Phil, don’t touch it! Look at all that meat! It’s superfluous! Jingling and jangling. What ever happened to some good old-fashioned pancake but? Now, that’s what mom used to make. Nice and flat. No cupping: it’s not necessary. And the line starts all the way at the bottom. Not even like a line. Like a tiny incision, if you will.” Phil and the woman meet, and the woman suggests dancing. The pixie, aghast, says, “Dancing? Phil, it’s a trap. She’s gonna start doing some kind of shaky moves. Whatever you do, you start dancing first. Just hit her with the twist.” With that, the pixie starts doing the twist. “That’s right,” he continues, “Works every time. Fast songs, slow songs…” Upon hearing the music playing in the club, the pixie despairs, “This Goddamn beat. Phil starts dancing with the woman a modern dance. The pixie comments, “Keep twisting Phil, for God’s sakes! Don’t…freak her! Damn this B.E.T. You look so comfortable, Phil. Whatever happened to some good old-fashioned Rock ‘N’ Roll?” Then, pulling out a microphone from his blazer, he sings, “The reflex is a lonely child waiting by the park. Every little thing the reflex does is an answer with the question mark.” He then does a signature move of Michael Jackson’s and hops out of existence, having given up.
Then began the conversation with the audience. The first to speak was a black man, who commented how great it was that so many diverse peoples could come together and laugh at each other, but also mentioned the problematic nature of the racial comedy, stating that ignorant people base their opinions on jokes such as the ones told. The next contributor was a Jewish man, who mentioned the validity of the sketch, confessing that he always over-pays on meals in restaurants in order that no one may bring up the stereotype. In his words, “Everybody does it.” Next, a black man further confirmed that the show always did a good job of bringing up racial issues that everyone thinks about in a comfortable venue. The next contributor, a black woman, when asked, said that her name was “Monique.” Rawlings responded, “Pony?” to which Monique responded with a slap on the arm. Rawlings exclaimed, “See, black bitches always be hittin’ on you. That’s the pixie!” Monique when on to comment that the sketch was “derogatory toward black and Spanish people, but plays on the good stereotypes of white people…. Even though there’s a pixie for the white people, it plays on that they’re educated… they listen to Rock music, but that’s not bad. But to play on ‘We like chicken, and we like shuckin’ and jive…” Rawlings interrupted, “You know we like chicken!” She responded, “Everybody likes chicken, okay!” The next commenter, a black man, expressed trouble in his workplace when whites change their forms of communication in an effort to cater to black people. He voiced his affection for racial comedy on the grounds that it is a relaxed way “for other people to look at other races and see how people communicate, because… if I get upset… [I’m] the ‘angry black guy,’ but if you… see the sketch… you know how I feel.” Next spoke a Hispanic female, who heralded the work as exceptional. She argued that there was no difference from Chappelle’s comedy and when Hispanics make jokes about themselves. She wished that people would “stop being so sensitive.” The next commenter, a white man, Gary, refuted Monique’s claim that Rock ‘N’ Roll is good, and fried chicken is bad. He insisted that it wasn’t a crime to eat fried chicken. The next one to speak was a black female, whose opinion was that the sketch was “funny as hell” so “everybody should just be easy.” The next to speak was a white male, who said that if Chappelle touches anyone to the point that they think about the presented issue, the mission of his comedy is accomplished. The next to speak was a black woman who spoke of the sketch’s uncomfortable nature and that that intrinsic value was the point of the comedy. Next, a white man affirmed that having an audience think about the racial issues presented in the sketch is a “good thing.” The next commenter, a black female, commented on the joy brought on by having many different ethnicities being focused on in the sketch, rather than just black people. One of the next to speak, a black woman, loathed how, sometimes, the comedy makes certain people too comfortable when they should not be. She commented on how it was funny to hear Chappelle make racist jokes, but not funny when white people copied Chappelle everyday life. One of the next people to speak was a black man, who commented on how white people in the sketch were presented as the generic race, so they weren’t affected as much. He complained that the flaws were presented in all other races and not within white people. Charlie Murphy then, as a response, presented the final racial pixie clip.
This one takes place inside of a bathroom. Two black men are using urinals, interspaced by a vacant urinal, which is promptly filled by a white man. The white man looks to his right and to his left, astounded by the size of their penises. The white pixie appears and tells him to “look straight ahead, sir. Don’t let that scare you. That is the bane of our existence! The black penis! Remember, no matter how big his dick is, at least you run the Goddamn world.” Then, one of the black men, Rawlings, notices the white pixie, and urinates on him. The white pixie retorts, “You may have won this time, nigger! I don’t know how you saw me, I’m gonna take a look at your tax return. You must’ve made a lot of money if you can see me. Woogie boogie!”
Murphy then asked the audience if that changed anything. Many responded, “No.” Murphy asked if 100 white-pixies would solve the problem, and no response was shown.
The next in the conversation was a black female who explained that it wasn’t the show’s responsibility to educated everybody, as it was a comedy show. She further commented that even if it was a responsible comedy show, it would be impossible to educate everyone.
In analyzing both the sketch and the reactions by the audience, it would seem that The Race Pixie was enjoyed by most audience members as intelligent racial commentary because of, in addition to its strictly comedic ploys, five key aspects: the sketch made fun of the corresponding stereotypes surrounding ethnicities involved; the sketch was created by and largely performed by a member of the ethnic minority; the context in which the sketch was produced, shown, and viewed was that of a comedy (and, thus, not to be taken at face value); the recognition by the audience of the presented racial stereotypes as racial stereotypes; and society’s shunning of racism. If any one of these attributes was non-existent, the sketch would have most probably amplified and/or created racial tensions within a majority of its viewers, rather than promote the enhanced cross-cultural conversation that it did. It was using these techniques that, through the power relationship between comedian and audience afforded by sketch comedy, Chappelle allowed for a celebration of differences and similarities found between cultures, as well as a reinforcing the notion of racism as both immoral and to be despised. As long as the audience is familiar with and accepts the concept that racism is morally wrong, when viewing The Race Pixie, in recognizing its comedic nature and the stereotypes presented, audiences are keen to the fact that Chappelle is exposing the ridiculousness of racist ideologies and the people, who may or may not be victims of internalization, who harbor them. In every instance of the telling of a racist joke, racists were the butt.
However, as with all media produced by humans, the interpretation may not always mesh well with the intended meaning. It will always be true that “if audience members misunderstand the show’s use of satire to debunk racial stereotypes and instead see the content of the skits as just plain funny, the show will actually end up reinforcing the very stereotypes it meant to overcome” (Zakos). It was of no coincidence that so many audience members were outspoken in their worry that many may interpret the work as a critique of the cultures of the ethnicities involved. Many were specifically concerned that the white man might internalize the presented stereotypes as truths, and that the presented stereotypes of non-whites were largely negative, while the presented white counterparts were more silly quirks than shameful habits. Interestingly enough, commenters like Monique who voiced this issue may have either inadvertently internalized racist views against their respective ethnicities, or perhaps, equally as fascinating, they have associated the so-called negative stereotypes as being so intertwined with white hate as to gain the quality of being undesirable themselves. As Gary said, “It’s not a crime to eat fried chicken… And watermelon is a delicious fruit,” so why should, for example, blacks feel that loving the taste of catfish is a negative trait, while ruling the world is a positive trait? That being said, most black, Asian, and Hispanic stereotypes presented do seem to have more influence over everyday life than the white stereotypes. For example, Asians that have trouble pronouncing l’s, blacks who encounter difficulty resisting ordering fried chicken, and Hispanics who stave off the urge to purchase illegal leopard-skins (all in an effort to not perpetuate stereotypes), may seem as if they do so more often than, say, whites pretend that black people don’t have bigger penises than them, because, as the sketch highlighted, white Americans rule the world in terms of business profitability, cultural sway worldwide, and quality of life (Trazer985). Some might say it is the white man’s privilege to not be as affected by racial stereotypes as all other ethnic groups, because of a perceived racial dominance.
To illustrate just how delicate of a balance needs to be achieved when searching for racial enlightenment through comedy, let’s take a look at an example when just one of the five key aspects is inverted. In the prank video by Hunter Ely from BroPranksTV Black Jokes in the Hood (Gone Wrong), all racial jokes are told by a white man. The backlash by both the targets of the pranks and most YouTube commenters was violent. The white comedians were physically assaulted by many of their target audience, and the comments section was filled with angry sentiments such as Tommy Casino’s “I hope you die filming these videos. This is not a prank [it’s] just being an asshole to people who have done nothing to you,” phoglebice’s “I hope one of these pranksters get shot, so we get an end to these disrespectful videos,” and Jay Low’s “Fucking dumb asses [threw] away their honor, dignity, respect for a piece of shit YouTube video” to name very few. The biggest reason for this outcry is the fact that whites have a recent history of enslaving and publicly hating and discriminating against other races (mainly blacks). Proportionally, there are very few whites for whom it is socially acceptable that they tell racist jokes, because there is a higher chance than with other ethnicities that their ancestors owned black people: they are one of the most recent ethnicities credited with being openly racist.
Intermixed with the heralding of the sketch’s comedic greatness and spoken uncomfortable feelings of the crowd that it generated were many acts of positive cross-cultural conversation. From Monique’s declaration that people of all races enjoy chicken to a Jewish man confessing his recurring urge to combat the stereotype that Jews are miserly, people from other cultures gained insight into how stereotypes affect people on a daily basis. Even the fact that so many people had something positive to add to the conversation it is fuel to the idea that The Race Pixie, and other comedies like it, can and do encourage audiences to earnestly contemplate the serious issues presented. Therefore, it is unsurprising that people feel as if they might point their acquaintances in the direction of Chappelle’s show whenever those acquaintances are ineffective in their cross-cultural communication. The conversation that his comedy generates allows cultures to vent their cultural inhibitions, and from there create appreciation for their plights, allowing insights to be made between cultures. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether or not racial comedy often changes the behavior of racists: in fact, as many audience members feared, it may very well be that it instead reinforces their assumptions.
In a study on how comedy affects bias, a psychologist and a master’s student from Western Carolina University performed experiments in which “subjects completed a questionnaire that measures the extent to which they hold prejudiced views… Later, they read several jokes targeting homosexuals and racists. In the next part of the study, they were told that due to budget cuts, the university has to cut money from several student organizations and they ask for their help to determine how to allocate the money” (Greengross). The study concluded that when we as humans, “consider groups that most people discriminate against, and feel they are justified in doing so, disparaging humor towards that group does not foster discriminatory acts against them… On the other hand, for groups for whom the prejudice norm is shifting, and there is still no consensus not to [discriminate] against… if you hold negative views against one of these groups… you feel it’s ok to discriminate against them” (Greengross) If hearing racial jokes truly does reinforce the discriminatory attitudes of racists, yet promote cross-cultural appreciation among non-racist, perhaps racially-charged comedy like The Race Pixie is best shown only to anti-racist audiences.
In conclusion, in Dave Chappelle’s sketch comedy The Race Pixie, and other similar sketch comedies, the comedian aims to empower the audience via satirical racial commentary. However, if the comedian’s audience is not anti-racist, the intended message will be lost and instead be interpreted as a bolstering of racist viewpoints. In fact, if any of the previously mentioned five key aspects that allow audience members to enjoy the comedy as a smart racial commentary are not met, no good may come of its viewing or, worse, enjoyment.
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