PC Police Bust Conan O'Brien Show

Asian Americans demanding apology from Late Night with Conan O'Brien after guest uses racial slur

By Josh Grossberg Jul 18, 2001 5:30 PMTags
The joke was so funny everybody forgot to laugh.

A comedian on Late Night with Conan O'Brien is under fire from Asian-American activists upset with her use of a racial slur on the show last week.

The Media Action Network for Asian Americans, a civil-rights watchdog group, called comic Sarah Silverman's use of the word "chink" in a July 11 bit "offensive" and "inappropriate" and demanded NBC apologize for allowing the remark to go unedited on the air.

"I'm a fan of Conan's and Sarah Silverman's, but I was disappointed when she started using that word," says Guy Aoki, president of the Media Action Network. "They don't have to use slurs like that. They're distancing themselves from fans."

While chatting it up with O'Brien, Silverman made a crack about how she managed to avoid jury duty by filling out the jury form with offensive remarks.

"My friend is like, why don't you write something inappropriate on the form, like 'I hate chinks,' " Silverman told O'Brien.

"[Instead] I just filled out the form and I wrote, 'I love chinks'--and who doesn't?"

The slur--an ugly remnant of 19th and 20th century anti-Chinese bias--is considered one of the worst for all Asians. Aoki, who's fourth generation Asian-American, says the "chinks" tag gets applied to all Asian races, and is as offensive to, say, Koreans or Japanese as it is to Chinese.

Aoki and his group say NBC should have cut out the remark; leaving it, he says, is indicative of a double standard when it comes to political correctness among broadcast networks.

"They've said 'chinks' before but we just didn't have it documented...They wouldn't do that with 'nigger,' " says Aoki. "But every group has to fight its own battles and educate the public."

Aoki says his organization planned to bring up the matter in a complaint with NBC's vice president for diversity, Paula Madison.

There was no comment from Silverman's manager, Geoff Cheddy, O'Brien or Madison. However, NBC (whose programming boss, Scott Sassa, is coincidentally of Asian descent) issued a statement apologizing for letting the slur slip.

"The joke on Late Night with Conan O'Brien was clearly inappropriate and the fact that it was not edited by our Standards and Practices department was a mistake," a network spokesperson says. "We have reviewed our procedures to ensure such an incident does not reoccur, and we will edit the joke out of any future repeats of the show."