The Golden Globes made fun of the controversy over The Interview by lampooning North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, but the entire joke fell flat for some people who found it a bit racist. Comedian Margaret Cho played a North Korean general who was a new member of the international press, complete with a fascist goose-step and completely monotone demeanor. Despite being of both North and South Korean descent herself, many people criticised her for the seemingly racist Golden Globes sketch, prompting her to respond on social media in defense of herself.
Cho’s bit as a North Korean general turned foreign press was a running gag throughout the Golden Globes show. With a stern, unsmiling face and monotone voice, Cho’s character got a picture with Meryl Streep and even pontificated on hit show Orange is the New Black. After the supposed hack of Sony by North Korea, the joke was a timely commentary on the whole debacle, but many people found it less than funny. Twitter users called the bit out for what they saw as racist comedy, some even saying that Cho was playing up to white people instead of showing solidarity with her own race.
Outcry was great enough to spark a response from the artist herself, who also used Twitter to voice her opinion. She reminded people of her own Korean heritage, which includes both North and South. She also noted that “you imprison, starve and brainwash my people you get made fun of by me.” From her point of view, the joke was about the North Korean leadership, not the people themselves. She also hit back at the idea that she was being racist by pointing out how people’s expectation of Asian comedians can itself be racist. As she told Buzzfeed in an interview, “For Asian-Americans, it’s a very particular set of expectations that we are set to maintain, and that in itself is racist.”
Some people, however, are not happy with that explanation. One Vulture writer noted that her performance “only furthered the idea that North Koreans are ultimately unknowable, ignorant, and bad speakers of Engrish.” The same article accused her of supplying a “punching bag” for Hollywood, who had suffered from the Sony hacks and was looking for someone to blame. Such comments echo the opinion of some Twitter critics who also accused Cho of ingratiating herself to white people.
It is worth noting that much of Margaret Cho’s comedy centers on making fun of certain people. For instance, she made an appearance on Tina Fey’s 30 Rock as former North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il, who was a waiter in the show. She returned to the show later as Kim Jong-un. Much of her comedy makes use of Asian stereotypes which are subverted and thrown back at the audience in mockery of their own expectations. But while Margaret Cho often gets a pass for those antics, her turn as a stereotypical North Korean general at the Golden Globes has brought quite a bit of criticism and been labelled racist by many both in the media and out of it.
By Lydia Bradbury