Racial and ethnic mockery is a cornerstone of American humor. Heck, it may be a cornerstone of world humor, I don’t know. But it doesn’t quite sit well with modern multiculti sensibilities.
In the weeks to come, let’s study some old and new examples of “ethnic comedy” and see if it bothers us. We’ll start with the Chinese.
Everybody knows that Chinamen talk funny, which is always good for a laugh, be you Jew or gentile, black or Hispanic. So click the track titles below and hear professional jokers poke fun at the Chinese.
1. “Chinese Mule Train” – Spike Jones
Bandleader Spike Jones was sort of the “Weird Al” Yankovic of the 1940s and ’50s, except Jones was an expert musical arranger. Instead of parodying hit songs by means of silly lyrics, Spike Jones went bananas with comical sound effects.
Vocalist Freddy Morgan (pictured) specialized in a ching-chongy “Oriental dialect”... most notably displayed on this Spike Jones version of the Frankie Laine hit “Mule Train.”
2. “Signifying Baby Seals” – Pigmeat Markham
Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham was the last of the old-school black vaudevillians. He was so old-school, he continued to perform in blackface in the 1950s.
In this clip, Pigmeat serves as straight man to a comic named Seals. The joke involves a “Chinee detective.” (Not Chinese, Chinee.)
3. “Chinese People” – Rudy Moreno
Just to show you that mocking Asians never goes out of style, here’s a routine from a modern-day L.A. standup, Rudy Moreno. (Who, by the way, did a great job playing a Mexican drug lord – “El Lomo” – in my TV show “Kingpin.”)
Not only do Chinese people talk funny, they tend to be less-than-adequate drivers.
4. “The Original Chinese Waiter” – Buddy Hackett
Ronald L. Smith is the author of “Goldmine Comedy Record Price Guide,” an indispensable reference book for students of American comedy. According to Smith, a young Buddy Hackett made a name for himself on the Borscht Belt with one routine: “The Chinese Waiter.”
This is it... a little slice of show-business history.