Interview: Mike Epps Uncovers The Truth Behind Your Favorite Racist Jokes
Why did the chicken cross the road? Two black guys were chasing him with biscuits.
An old adage maintains that there is truth in every joke, but does this rule apply to quips about racial stereotypes? Comedian/actor Mike Epps attempts to answer this question in his new AOL Originals series, That’s Racist. Taking on the funny and not-so-funny origins of Asians’ bad driving reputation, Mexicans being called lazy, Jews’ association with frugality and black people’s supposed love for chicken, Epps takes the comical route down awkward-race-conversation lane.
“For so many years, we’ve had jokes about black people, white people, Jewish people, all these different ethnicities, and nobody really knew where they came from,” he told VIBE. “So I went and interviewed all these different races to find out where these jokes came from and why people started them.”
Part humorous and part educational, That’s Racist finds Epps hitting the streets to probe the masses about their own stereotypical biases. The show also features a multi-cultural panel of fellow comedians Randy and Jason Sklar, Helen Hong, Rick Overton, John Viener and Sharon Houston. And while the laughs make the race pill easier to swallow, Epps’ latest gig could not have been executed by just any Joe Schmo. –– Iyana Robertson
VIBE: Stereotypes and race are necessary conversations. Do you think the comedic approach helps make it easier to have?
Epps: No doubt. As soon as people see me, they want to laugh. That’s the thing that got me through this without people being so judgemental. So I don’t think any Joe Schmoe could’ve did this.
True. Race and stereotypes are subjects that still make people uncomfortable.
It does make people uncomfortable. It’s one of those things that everybody takes differently. I had a couple of situations when I was interviewing people; one of the Muslim guys got offended. It’s still touchy, it’s not easy.
Did participating the show help you check your own personal stereotypes as well?
Of course it did. It was very educational for me. I learned that a lot of things I thought was what it was, it wasn’t that. And a lot of other things, I just didn’t know and I learned them.
How did you guys go about choosing which stereotypes to explore?
We basically went for the usual suspects. Black people, Asian people, Irish people. We went for the people that we knew had these racial stereotypes against them.
On the show, you start out with a stereotypical joke, and you explore it with a panel of other people. Tell me about this panel.
The panel was basically a group of people of all different ethnicities. We wanted to hear it from more than just me. Everybody on the panel was as equally yoked as me, as far as the business is concerned. They were comedians, we had an Asian girl, a couple of twins that were Jewish. So the panel was to show that not only did Mike Epps want to find out information from his position, we went and got other comedians and other people that have a name to give their [points of view] as well. Kind of like a sum up.
And that’s the appeal of the show, right? The comedy mixed with the educational stuff.
Some people think that that stereotyping isn’t all bad. Do you think there are any positives to stereotyping?
It is. When it comes to stereotypes, when you hear that word, the average person thinks negative. There are a lot of great stereotypes about all races. Particularly black people. We get upset about the stereotype of being athletic, but yet and still we run sports. That’s a true stereotype that has been beneficial to our race.
You said the show isn’t about racism, but stereotypes lead to or justify racism for a lot of people. Why are these such hot-button topics right now?
We’ve had a lot of situations that have went down in the last couple of years that have been really, really tough on black people especially. I think that we have a whole lot of great figures out here, and I think that we’re making way. And I think on the other hand, we’re also being attacked for that on a lower scale. Our influence on the world is very strong as black people. We influence the world so much that I think it’s been a tactic to keep us down. With all the police brutality and killings, it’s just raised the awareness that it’s out there. That racism is still alive in America and all over the world. But hey, what can I say when you’re not labeled the dominant race, but are the dominant race?
They don’t give us the title, but it’s a reason why they have diseases and plagues that are targeted against our race. It’s a reason why cops kill us and get away with it. It’s a reason why our education system is bad. It’s a reason why our kids don’t have the opportunities that other kids have. And that was some of the issues I had when I was talking to other races because everybody wants to compare their demise and their history of torture and slavery to each other, but I think the difference as African-Americans, negroes, black people, is that we still haven’t seen justice for it. We’re still in bondage.
Do you remember your earliest personal experiences with stereotypes and racism?
I was young, man. I’m from Indiana, so when you’re from Indiana, and you grow up in a segregated city like I’ve grown up in, you experience real young. I’ve had people hit me with jokes when I was young. Really, really young. I was born and raised in the middle of America – not on the East Coast, not on the West Coast, and not down south – right smack-dab in the middle. I know southern people have their own stories of racism and stereotypes, but I’m from the middle, which to me, makes a difference.
Since you experience it so young, what do you tell your kids? How are you making sure the next generation is different?
Unfortunately, the reality of that is that my kids don’t know what racism is. They haven’t experienced that. And when they do, they’re so oblivious to it, they don’t even know what it is, they don’t even know it’s in their faces because they hear white kids say “my nigga” at school. They don’t know what that is. They think that’s normal language. Unfortunately, we have a generation gap that is separated us and our children from knowledge. They just don’t have the knowledge that we’ve had of it. It isn’t taught to the young generation. The awareness ain’t there and they fact of caring ain’t there; they don’t care. My kids, they know who Martin Luther King is, but they don’t know who Malcolm X is, which is the flipside of of what Martin Luther king preached. Our babies, they’re just blind and ignorant to it, they don’t know what [racism] is. Which is a beautiful thing and a bad thing –
I was just about to ask, is that a good thing or a bad thing?
It’s good and bad. It’s good that they don’t know what it is, and it’s bad because when they’re approached with it, they don’t know how to deal with it, it’s foreign.
Now I’d like to get your opinion on a couple of stories and play a game of “Racist Or Nah.” I’ll give you a subject, and you’ll tell me if you think race and stereotypes are involved. Let’s start with Iggy Azalea. She’s been so controversial. Is that racism at play, or nah?
Yeah, I think it is. I think with her, it just comes with it. She looks like a black hockey player. In the hip-hop game, she’s a black hockey player. So if you come in the hockey game, and you’re black, what you think you’re gonna get?
Next one. A lot of people say race and stereotypes are playing a role in how Bill Cosby is being portrayed right now. Does it?
No doubt. Bill Cosby is a black figurehead. He’s a black man that has always been in our living rooms. There are just too many other situations within other races that have done similar things, and weren’t punished for it. I just think racism does play a part in that. That doesn’t have anything to do with if he’s guilty or not – I don’t have any say-so on that – but I do think that has played a part.
Okay, here’s another. Some people felt that Selma was snubbed at the Oscars this year. Do you think race and stereotyping are at play with that?
I think when it comes to film and stuff like that, it’s based off of politics, individuality and people that are involved in the film. I think when it comes to Martin Luther King, people are very, very touchy and sensitive. A lot of people feel like when [Martin Luther King’s story] doesn’t get praise the way that they think it should, they play their card. We’ve seen the Martin Luther King story a million times. So I think that award was based off of Academy Awards politics, and individuality, meaning the director and the star. And I think they did a great job; they should have gotten at least a nod. But then again, this is a story that we’ve seen a million times. And they turned around and gave Common and John Legend an award, so we got something out of it.
Last one. A big story in the news was a group of white people being arrested for food stamp fraud. Was that widely reported on because the suspects weren’t black?
That’s a blessing. That’s a blessing that that story is out, and it’s a blessing that it has happened in front of black people to show them that they’re not the only ones on welfare, and they’re not the only ones doing bad. Because I think that turns into a crutch too for black folks. I love seeing those stories. I like to see stories of other races going through turmoil, because it balances it out. Especially for black people, because we’ll use that in a minute not to do what we’re supposed to do or what we think we can do. I think that’s good that there’s a balance there.
Head over to AOL Originals to watch Mike Epps’ That Racist here.