Robin Williams Emmy Tribute: Racist? Of Course Not!

Racist? Check again, I see humour.



The Robin Williams video that aired at the Emmy’s after Billy Cristal delivered a tribute to the late-comedian has drawn some fire from knee-jerk dimwits on social media. The offending clip was a snippet from Williams appearance on James Lipton’s Inside the Actors Studio in which he was free-associating using a pink scarf from a woman in the front row. 

The clip showed two of the jokes Williams made with the scarf (only a tiny part of the hysterically funny show, which you can find in full here), and only one of those jokes have raised the permanently skyward brows of a few twitter trolls. 

The first joke (the apparently innocuous one) involved him putting the scarf over his head and impersonating an Indian; “I came to Bombay last year…” Perhaps he was actually doing Mother Theresa, whatever, the audience laughed and the tweeters ignored it. 

Then he pulled part of the scarf over his mouth and nose, giving the clear impression of a burka, saying; “I would like to welcome you to Iran… Help me!”

Yes that was the ‘offending’ bit. The NZ Herald’s article on it showed the following tweets:

And my personal favourite:

How is it racist to make a joke (which is not being serious by definition) out of the dress and state of women in Iran? Particularly (though I don’t think it is relevant to the main point) when that joke is pre 9-11. Ricky Gervais once said that there is nothing you can’t joke about, no topic is ever taboo, it depends what the joke is. 

Looking at the machinery behind the humour, the ability to use irony correctly in order to make something funny requires an understanding of the thing itself. And the joy of laughing is all the better when you feel there is some reason you shouldn’t laugh. For example I had no end of fun making my friend laugh in class, and vice versa, because we knew we weren’t allowed to laugh. 

Thus the best humour is controversial. In the hurry to distance ourselves from Islamophobia, some of us are falling prey to over-sensitivity, and humourlessness. Dare to give in to laughing at things you feel unsure about and the result is a loosening up, the ability to take life less seriously, and the extra delight that comes with being a little bit naughty.

That is what Robin Williams did so well, and @marathonpacks that is what people who have never heard of him are more likely to find.  

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