A tale of two concerts: Dieudonné vs Russell Peters
Hong Kong comedian Jim Brewsky has described his African-American and Jewish heritage as making him a "one stop shop for racism". Here he reflects on two kinds of Jewish jokes: those made by a culturally relevant comedian about to visit soon, the other by an anti-semite banned from performing here last week
Why in the world am I getting this weird, happy feeling reading the news about France’s Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, a “comic” that is infamous for his controversial material regarding race and culture, being detained before he could perform in Hong Kong? Equally weird, why is it, that I am actually looking forward to seeing Russell Peters perform his widely famous routine where he makes fun of different ethnicities, races, cultures, etc.?
Now, it may be hard for someone like me to get to the bottom of this paradox. After all, I do not have a Ph.D. in human psychology, nor am I a member of the International Society for Humor Studies (yes, it is a real thing). No, I’m just a guy – sometimes a funny one – who likes a good laugh. I am however, a stand-up comedian, so when I wonder these things, perhaps I question my emotions a bit deeper than what one would consider healthy.
READ MORE: Controversial French comedian Dieudonné denied entry to Hong Kong, Cyberport shows cancelled
The worldly popular Russell Peters lampoons common racial stereotypes that many can obviously relate to based upon his success. The regionally popular Dieudonné seemingly does the same, right? No. There is a difference between laughing WITH someone about simple well-known stereotypes, and laughing AT an entire group and trying to promote or enforce a harmful political viewpoint. Dieudonné, does the latter by using comedic performance to promote his own, conservative, right-winged, neo-nazi political views.
In fact, in his home of France, where he has come under serious fire and been banned from appearing on some French tv shows, many of his comments would not be legally acceptable unless they were veiled as comedy. Why is one man’s “shtick” another mans “successful style”?
First I have to ask, is Dieudonné funny? I mean that, seriously! I don’t speak French. Is this guy a bag of hot air, or really talented? Could he last a couple rounds on the U.S. television program ‘Last Comic Standing’ and if he did, would that mean he is really funny? Comedians create from their own perspective and experiences.
Who is to judge if a certain type of comedy is right or wrong? I surely cannot be the judge, but I do believe that in the end, laughter should bring people together, not separate them. Many comics from Lenny Bruce to Amy Schumer have been scrutinized for being racist, but what makes the French laugh so hard at this guy and would it make me laugh even if I could understand it?
Video: profile of Jim Brewsky, winner of the 7th International Comedy Competition in 2015
Dr. Thomas Ford of Western Carolina University theorized that jokes reflect where we, as a society, place social groups on a scale, in terms of how legitimate it is to discriminate against them; so Dieudonné’s popularity in France reflects more on his ‘French audience’s view of Jewish people’ more than just Dieudonné on-stage.
Meanwhile, Russell Peter’s light-hearted critiques of many cultures equally seem more palatable to the masses. He pokes fun at himself, his background and friends in Canada, and the whole world as he experiences it – not focusing on one particular group.
Comedy, like many things, is subjective.
There are those of us applauding Dieudonné’s detention at Hong Kong’s international airport, and others who wasted their money buying tickets for a concert that’s not going to happen. Either way, it’s important to remember that humour is not always positive. Funny is not always “fun”. Humour can cause hurt and embarrassment but it can also bring a room full of strangers together in a moment of mirth. But it’s never too late to learn.
I personally dedicated my pursuit of comedy towards bridging cultural gaps and uplifting people – the opposite of what Dieudonné does regarding race and anti-Semitism. Perhaps Dieudonné could follow my lead. With such a large audience, popularity and fame, it’s a shame that he isn’t making the world any better. So maybe he can learn a little something from a nobody like me. Better yet, he’s welcome to come watch Russell Peters with me in Macau.