Satirist Stephen Colbert may be in danger of having his show, “The Colbert Report,” cancelled. The #CancelColbert movement came out of the woodwork on Twitter on March 27 following an off-color joke on the show. Thousands of Internet users have thrown in their support for the cause, placing the celebrated comedian in the center of controversy. But in wake of this social media outcry, it is important to remember that Colbert is just that: a comedian. According to the Internet Movie Database, “Satirist news caster Stephen Colbert provides humorous commentary on the big issues going on in the United States and the rest of the world.” This description for “The Colbert Report” is important to remember when evaluating the recent controversy. One of Stephen Colbert’s primary goals with his show – which has been on the air since 2005 – has been to illuminate societal problems through sardonic and sometimes crass humor.
The joke in question was part of a bit during which he mocked Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder’s decision to set up a Native American support foundation that provides clothing to various North American tribes rather than change the team’s overtly racist name. Colbert then jokingly introduced an aid foundation of his own: the “Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”
It took the fans in the live-audience all of two seconds to meet Colbert with laughter, clearly displaying their understanding that this was just another piece of the satire that viewers of “The Colbert Report” have grown accustomed to for close to 10 years. The story should have ended right here, but the general public proved not to be as quick to laugh as Colbert’s devotees.
@ColbertReport, a Twitter account run by Comedy Central without input from Colbert himself, sent out a tweet referring to the show’s joke, but without the context of the larger bit it was a part of. The errant tweet provoked a strongly negative response.
Asian-American activist Suey Park came up with the #CancelColbert hashtag, tweeting, “#CancelColbert because white liberals are just as complicit in making Asian Americans into punch lines and we are not amused.”
Park’s sentiments – which included demanding an apology from Colbert – spread like wildfire and were soon echoed by thousands of Twitter users. Colbert himself chimed in via his own personal Twitter account. Comedy Central quickly removed the tweet and was quick to point out that neither Colbert nor his writing staff has ties to the account.
Had CNN or MSNBC referred to Asians as “Orientals or whatever,” then certainly there would be cause for outrage, but that is not the case. Though the news desk format of Colbert’s show isn’t akin to your standard comedy, the statements made on “The Colbert Report” carry as much weight and severity as those spoken on programs like “South Park” and “Tosh.0,” programs that are allowed to push the envelope given their comedic medium.
Stephen Colbert the man and Stephen Colbert the character are separate entities. The central concept of “The Colbert Report” is the host’s skewering of ultra-conservative cable news personalities by portraying a comically exaggerated version of one. Granted, this format does not give Colbert license to say just anything, but in this specific case it is hard to find impropriety in the comedian’s joke when given proper context.