By KRISTEN LAWRENCE
How much of a responsibility do comedians hold for their words taken out of context?
Stephen Colbert, host of the popular Comedy Central show “The Colbert Report” recently came under fire for a quotation posted to Twitter via the account @ColbertReport.
The offensive tweet in question was as follows: “I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”
The tweet was eventually removed due to a massive backlash. The account is the official twitter for the show itself, and is run by Comedy Central. The tweet was part of a skit meant to mock Washington Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder on his decision not to alter the team name, instead opting to open a Foundation for Native Americans.
Well known for his on-stage persona, itself a parody of stereotypes associated with right wing pundits, Colbert made a name for himself with a bevy of non-politically correct statements and observations of on-show guests and events from around the nation. But the switch from cable television to Twitter sparked a huge uprising of complaints and generated a movement to #cancelcolbert.
Was there something innately lost in the transition from speech to text that tipped off Twitter audiences or was Colbert’s jab tasteless either way?
Given Colbert’s enjoyment of a steady fanbase since his show began, it is rather hard to believe that this is the first statement he is made to spur outrage on such a vocal scale.
It is easier to believe that a lack of context as to who Colbert was making fun of was what caused the outpouring of contention and cries for his removal from the network.
Stephen Colbert remarked on the situation from his own Twitter account, @StephenAtHome, with “I agree! Just saw @ColbertReport tweet. I share your rage. Who is that, though? I’m @StephenAtHome.”
The shifting of responsibility for the faux pas is suspect, given that those were his words even if he was not the one posting them.
With a history of offering non-apologies along the same vein, it definitely feels like stoking the outrage of the inflamed masses, which is a little much to be expecting people to brush off with one online riot already in the works.
It would have been more responsible to issue a brief apology, to acknowledge the hurt rather than perpetuate it through a teasing jibe.
People were clearly upset by the show material, and is it not possible that some of those protesters were the same people who watched The Colbert Report and were fostering animosity towards Colbert?
He is allowed his free speech, but teasing his potential audience without personally addressing the words that vexed them in the first place feels somewhat like shooting oneself in the foot.
As to the statement itself, leeway should and has been granted so far as comedic expression goes. Colbert was allowed to present his piece in the light of the satire it was intended to be, but the hurt perpetuated by those words is real no matter the intention behind them.
In this case, it is not necessarily Colbert’s original quips which warrant a raised eyebrow and a closer consideration of his feelings toward his audience.
It is the way in which he brushes aside their concerns after seeing clear evidence that it was the words themselves that were hurtful, considering that Twitter viewers did not necessarily understand what Colbert was satirizing in that quoted segment.
Comedy is only as good as its impact on people, and if so many people raised an argument against his using derogatory words in that instance, then it is hard to consider it an effective piece of comedy when it is upsetting on so wide a scale.
Now set to take over for David Letterman on “The Late Show,” this debacle has not stemmed the tide of Stephen Colbert’s success just yet, but it does cast him in suspicion for the future of his career.