Mike Epps is no stranger to raising eyebrows, all the while making audiences laugh with his risqué brand of comedy. The 43-year-old actor and comic unashamedly laces his sold-out stand-up acts with what some have deemed to be inappropriate jokes, mostly revolving around race. Next fall, Epps will continue to explore this relevant hot button topic in his customary funny and taboo fashion with That’s Racist, a new web series on AOL. (Yes, AOL is coming for Netflix and Hulu.)
That’s Racist is a man-on-the-street series that follows Epps on his quest to uncover the origins of racist jokes by interviewing those at the receiving end. “This is a real touchy subject and only certain people can touch it. We thought we’d shed some light on it,” says Epps, who adds that the eye-opening show will take on stereotypes of all cultures and races from around the world. “Some racist jokes are based on truths and others on stereotypes. The show examines the source, and at the same time, we get a good laugh out of it.” Some long-lived stereotypes Epps tackles include the link between fried chicken and Blacks and the frugal ways of Jews.
Epps, who will soon be seen on the big screen immortalizing the iconic controversial comic Richard Pryor in Nina (the Zoe Saldana-starring Nina Simone biopic), says he’s always been fascinated with racial jokes. He even has a bit in his stand-up act where he singles out a Black guy in the audience with a White girl. “I point at the guy and say, ‘I bet you didn’t pay to get here.’ See, from my experience in the ghetto, when you see a Black guy with a White girl, most of the time, she is his life raft. And most of the time, the White girl gets offended,” says Epps.
The first racial joke he ever heard came from a friend of his at school. “A little White girl got out of her chair. He said, ‘Amy,’ and she said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘You left your ass in the chair!” Epps laughs recalling the joke, as if he’d just heard it for the first time.
While that backside joke is pretty tame when it comes to racial jokes, is it still funny if the unsavory jab is directed at African-Americans? It’s not so cut and dried for Epps. “I’m a comic, so I get the humor. Do I take them personally? No. I do take offense to malicious racist jokes. Do I tell racist jokes? Of course I do,” he rationalizes.
Before any White person out there itching to share some ironic hipster racial jokes screams reverse racism, the power dynamics are such that racial jokes aimed at Whites tend to sting less since minorities have no substantial power to effect said hipster’s being.
“Ethnic groups in the U.S. have long been positioned to be in the lower class,” Epps reminds. “When you say something about us, we don’t take it lightly. Ultimately, it’s about getting a laugh. Who cares what some guy who works at a bakery thinks? But it’s not all fun when the person making the racist joke is in a position of power and Black people are making him lots of money, like Donald Sterling.”
Epps hopes viewers will learn to lighten up and see how ridiculous these racial jokes can be once you delve deep into their backstory. While filming That’s Racist, Epps says he came to the conclusion that everyone harbors some form of prejudice.
“I don’t care what color you are, what class or nationality. Everyone behind closed doors is a bit racist. It’s part of being a human and definitely part of being an American. Of course, some are more than others. Humor is the best way to combat the pain.”
Alexandra Phanor-Faury is a Haitian-American writer living in Brooklyn, New York with a slight (OK, major) addiction to fashion and pop culture. When she's not up in the middle of the night filling her online shopping carts and catching up on style blogs, she's writing about fashion and entertainment for a number of websites and her blog, Fringueuse.