Washington (AFP) – Comedian Stephen Colbert has offered a full-throated, if tongue-in-cheek, defense of satire after outrage on social media over his offensive language on Asian Americans.
Colbert, who plays a tempestuous conservative commentator on his popular “Colbert Report” late-night TV show, repeatedly stressed Monday that his over-the-top jibes were meant as parody.
“Very important — he is a character. He is not me,” Colbert said to laughter as he pointed to footage of himself.
The comedian, who was recently invited by President Barack Obama to sit at a head table at a state dinner, came under fire last week as he attacked the owner of the Washington Redskins who refuses to change the American football team’s name, which is considered derogatory by many Native Americans.
Mocking the team owner’s announcement that he was establishing a fund to support Native Americans, Colbert said: “I am willing to show the Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”
Asian American activists attacked Colbert via social media, saying the community should not serve as a demeaning punch line even if the comedian professes liberal views. “#CancelColbert” became one of the most trending topics on Twitter.
“Who would have thought a means of communication limited to 140 characters would ever create misunderstanding?” Colbert, a favorite of young liberals, said in his response.
“When I saw the tweet with no context, I understood how people were offended. The same way I, as an Irish American, was offended after reading only one line of Jonathan Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal,'” Colbert said, referring to the Anglo-Irish writer’s classic 1729 satirical essay.
“I mean, ‘Eat Irish Babies’? #CancelSwift — trend it!,” Colbert said.
Colbert, saying he would meet his critics halfway on calls to cancel his program, announced he was ending his supposed foundation and invited onto the stage a young Asian American employee, whose name he dutifully mispronounced, to lay him off.
On a more serious note, Colbert urged viewers to show respect to the leading force behind the #CancelColbert campaign, Suey Park. The 23-year-old Asian American writer and activist said she has been receiving credible death and rape threats from white supremacists.
AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm