featured Racism

Op-ed: Jokes no cover for racist ignorance

Blankets infected with smallpox were handed by early settlers to indigenous peoples as a biological weapon. That’s no joking matter, writes Jackie Davis.

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – It may not seem to be the first, or the most relevant place to face racist ideas, but at a Monday night Open Mic Comedy event in a local bar this week, a white comedian stood up and told ‘jokes’ relying on deeply layered histories of relations between indigenous peoples and settlers.

The histories and relationships, that is, were deeply layered- his jokes were anything but.

Ramping up from some other comments on being ‘homeless’, he commented on his living-situation:  

Took over a lease and the guy’s native American girlfriend of course came with the deal. She…slept on the floor and I didn’t want to offer her a blanket, you know?”

At an ‘amateur’ comedy night, you may expect rookie mistakes and possibly coarse-grained jokes or off-colour remarks. Comedy is a kind of performance that makes points by hitting hard against boundaries. In this case it merely showcased the ignorance and shallow attitude of one performer.

What should our reaction be? One audience member said “I felt like everyone in the room was similarly shocked by how disrespectful [it was]. That bomb pretty much ruined it for everybody. But no one stood up or called him out.” The audience gave as little reaction as possible as the amateur glided through to his next set-up to talk about ‘black balls’ and comparing Mormons to dogs.

If we talk about the purpose of comedy, the Oxford dictionary would say it is “…entertainment consisting of jokes and sketches, intended to make an audience laugh.”

The performance missed that mark; the audience gave no positive reinforcement.

Maybe his intent was to be closer to satire: “The use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.”   

Well, he certainly exposed some stupidity and vice.  

We could argue about the purpose of comedy here,  but in reality this performance depicts a deformed or—at the very least—singular perspective of reality that is hurtful to and misrepresents real people.

Was the comedian aware of current issues of indigenous struggle?  Didn’t the city of Halifax just last week remove a statue of  a colonial player from a prominent space, only to have racist talk perpetuated on a stage the following week?

Was he making any real comment, other than trying to get a laugh for his own success and pleasure?

No matter how many jokes about brown, white or black folks this comedian  may make in other performances, he should always keep in mind what is funny or critical, and what is perpetuating hateful, racist thoughts. A performer of any kind needs to be conscious of the society they’re speaking within.

Comedy should not be exempt from criticism. It should not be a cover for complete ignorance.  


If you can, please support the Nova Scotia Advocate so that it can continue to cover issues such as poverty, racism, exclusion, workers’ rights and the environment in Nova Scotia. A paywall is not an option, since it would exclude many readers who don’t have any disposable income at all. We rely entirely on one-time donations and a tiny but mighty group of dedicated monthly sustainers.




  1. Remember Andrew Dice Clay? He is still at it, he is on Howard Stern all the time.

    Remember Howie Mandel on stage in a diaper?

    Remember “Bizarre” and John Biner?

    Remember the opening like of Eddie Murphy’s “Raw”, well…. I don’t like comedians in general I guess.

    What is the Deal with bad comedy?

    Andy Kaufman used to love wrestlin’ the ladies, not cool dude!

    Yea, all that stuff was risqué’ and stupid, and falls under the category of statements made in jest that piss me off.

    Keep on callin’ this kinda thing out, as we can all be funnier and less hurtful.

    I am sorry you had to witness this act.

  2. Haha, yeah, all of those are some crude crass performances–in some cases you’re there for the purpose though–everyone knows what you’ll get with Horrid Stern, for example.

    I’d like to make a statement to the effect that I am *not* lacking a sense of humour, or some dry piece of toast in the corner ready with the censorship button. This buddy the other night was outta line in a clear way. Poor timing, poor choices, *more* than poor taste!

    Thanks Vinnie!

Comments are closed.