I recently started watching Aziz Ansari’s Netflix TV show “Master of None.” The show is very funny, and Ansari has been lauded for addressing issues of race in very complex ways through his humor.
In “Parents,” the second episode, Ansari explores the immigrant stories of both his parents as well as friend Brian’s Taiwanese parents. In the fourth episode “Indians on TV,” Ansari explores the long history of racist casting in TV and movies, as well as the hard choices that people of color must make when navigating the film industry: for example, whether to take a stereotypical role, or whether or not to accept a role if the film or TV casting is clear that they will only include one person of color.
We talked today about the potential of comedy to reify, rather than deconstruct, racial stereotypes. I liked his quote from this article in LA Times that addresses this concern:
It’s funny because I made a clear choice in my stand-up not to make it about ‘Here’s what it’s like to be an Indian guy, here’s what it’s like to be a white guy,'” says Ansari, who has three Netflix-exclusive stand-up specials to his name, the last being at Madison Square Garden. “I feel like when you do that kind of humor, you tend to end up doing these kind of hack stereotype jokes. But to have this kind of conversation about race that I have in the show, I’ve never had a chance to do that.
Granted, the show is not perfect, and has received a lot of criticism about not featuring many lead romantic interests that are women of color. But it seems that Ansari has found a way to tease out racial issues and his identity in a way that is not at the expense of other Indian-Americans. The cast is very diverse, but race is not the sole aspect of any character’s identity. Rather, Ansari is a very complex, fully-alive character, and it is through humour that the show is able to deal so poignantly with racial issues.