Comedian Steve Harvey has apologized for making disparaging remarks about Asian men on his nationally syndicated talk show.
A torrent of criticism resulted from the Jan. 6 broadcast, in which Harvey made fun of some unusual self-help books, such as “Dating for Under a Dollar: 301 Ideas” and “How to Have Sex in the Woods.”
Harvey seemed to find the premise of one book — “How to Date a White Woman: A Practical Guide for Asian Men” (2002) by Adam Quan — particularly hilarious.
“That’s one page, too!” he exclaimed, laughing at his own joke. “‘Excuse me, do you like Asian men?’ ‘No.’ ‘Thank you.’
“‘How to Date a Black Woman: A Practical Guide to Asian Men.’ Same thing. ‘You like Asian men?’ ‘I don’t even like Chinese food. It don’t stay with you no time. I don’t eat what I can’t pronounce.’”
This elicited laughter and applause from the audience.
Harvey — who also hosts “Family Feud” and is himself an author of self-help books — initially seemed to take criticism of his remarks lightly, saying, “I ain’t been laughing that much over the past few days. They’re kind of beating me up on the Internet right now for no reason. But, you know, that’s life, ain’t it?”
But on Jan. 17, Harvey tweeted, “I offer my humblest apology for offending anyone, particularly those in the Asian community, last week. It was not my intention and the humor was not meant with any malice or disrespect whatsoever.”
Angry Asian Man blogger Phil Yu said he found the statement unconvincing and unsatisfactory. “This is not an apology. This statement places the issue on ‘those in the Asian community’ who had a problem with what he said — not on what he actually said. At best, this is a statement expressing regret for how we interpreted his words. It does not address or take responsibility for his comments, and attempts to refocus the issue on his intent. According to Steve, we’re the ones who got it wrong.
“How hard is it to simply say, ‘I apologize for what I said. I was wrong’?”
The Hollywood Reporter’s Rebecca Sun wrote in an op-ed piece, “Short of personally evaluating enough members of a single race to form a statistically significant judgment on their sexual viability, we tend to rely on popular culture to shape popular opinion. Like the cartoonists of the 19th century, today’s artists have the power to perpetuate malicious stereotypes about Asian men, as Steve Harvey and the creators behind ‘The Hangover’s’ Mr. Chow (whose penis was mistaken for a shiitake mushroom) and ‘2 Broke Girls’ Han Lee (that show is still on) have done.
“But others in the industry have instead chosen to subvert the 200-year-old trend, as ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ does with Josh Chan as the object of the title character’s obsession and ‘The Walking Dead’ did with the late Glenn, one-half of the show’s longest-enduring couple. (And shout out to ‘The Good Place’ for Jianyu, the hot Buddhist monk who’s a lot more — or less? — than he seems.)
“Jokes about sexless Asian men are soooo 1882. Time to get some fresh material.”
In a Jan. 13 letter to Harvey and NBC Universal Television, which distributes his show, five Asian American elected officials from New York — Rep. Grace Meng, Assemblymembers Ron Kim and Yu-Line Niou, and Councilmembers Margaret Chin and Peter Koo — expressed outrage.
“In just one short clip, you and your producers managed to insult Asian men, white women, and black women with a single skit,” they wrote. “Your statements were racist, sexist, and completely inappropriate for a public figure on a show broadcast to millions …
“Thoughtlessness and a lack of self-awareness might be one thing, but it is clear this was not the case. Immediately following your skit, your segment pivoted to a Filipino audience member, and your mock contrition makes it apparent you understood from the beginning how offensive your words were …
“Negative, false, and harmful depictions of Asians have persisted in media and popular culture for decades, and your disrespectful conduct has only worsened this issue. Asian Americans’ numerous accomplishments and contributions have helped shape this nation, and we are not just another target for tasteless jokes on your show …
“In addition to issuing an apology, we request that you remove all forms of this segment from ‘Steve Harvey.’ It is our hope that this moment will ultimately serve as a turning point…”
In an essay published in The New York Times, chef, author and TV host Eddie Huang, whose memoir is the basis of the ABC sitcom “Fresh Off the Boat,” called Harvey’s jokes “upsetting” and wrote about his experiences growing up Asian in America. “Over time, I began to find solidarity with my singularity and difference. Yet the one joke that still hurts, the sore spot that even my closest friends will press, the one stereotype that I still mistakenly believe at the most inopportune bedroom moments … is that women don’t want Asian men.
“Attractiveness is a very haphazard dish that can’t be boiled down to height or skin color, but Asian men are told that regardless of what the idyllic mirepoix is or isn’t, we just don’t have the ingredients.”
Despite his successful career, he said, at times “I thoroughly believed that no one wanted anything to do with me … the structural emasculation of Asian men in all forms of media became a self-fulfilling prophecy that produced an actual abhorrence to Asian men in the real world.”
Although Harvey “speaks openly about issues facing the black community,” Huang said, “For his own personal profit, he’s willing to perpetuate the emasculation of Asian men regardless of how hypocritical it is.”
“Daily Show” host Trevor Noah also took Harvey to task: “I actually feel bad for Steve Harvey. You know, these days whenever you see his name in the headlines, it’s because something went wrong. Two years ago, he accidentally crowned the wrong Miss Universe on live TV … and last week was a double whammy.
“Harvey’s week started off with him being slammed for making jokes about Asian guys being unattractive in a segment on his daytime talk show. And that wasn’t even Steve Harvey’s whole week. Because after pissing off a whole ethnic group, where does one go to find a sympathetic ear?”
Noah then segued into jokes about Harvey’s recent meeting with President-elect Donald Trump, which upset and puzzled some of the comedian’s fans.