Yesterday, Sasha sent me a video of George Lopez berating a female fan after he tells a racist joke and asked me to write about it. Sasha never does this so I know it really pissed her off. I also know this because she called him George F-cking Lopez. Here’s the video TMZ posted of George F-cking Lopez kicking the fan out of his show in Phoenix a couple days ago.
The joke in question: "There are only two rules in the Latino family — don't marry somebody Black and don't park in front of our house."
Before I get into how George Lopez, one of the most– if not THE most—famous Latino comedians in America, handled the reaction to this sh-tty offensive joke, I’m going to break down why I think it’s so sh-tty and offensive. First of all, he says “don’t marry somebody black” without any other subversive or satirical context. Dude, that’s just a racist statement. Second, the bigoted history surrounding interracial couples in America is very real and still exists (see: my review of Loving). Third, anti-black racism in Latino communities is not something to flippantly kid around about. Lopez’s ignorance reminded me of this Salon piece that came out right after George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin about confronting anti-black racism among Latinos. The writer is a non-black Latina who shares the prejudice she witnessed growing up in a Latino American family. She also eloquently silences anyone who would say George Lopez gets a pass because he’s a person of colour:
We know racism and discrimination because we endure it — but that doesn’t mean we lack the power to be oppressive.
Some commenters have defended Lopez by suggesting maybe he was just trying to point out and condemn the racism that can occur in the Latino community. OK, but if there was more nuance to the joke, he never got there because of what he did next. After the aforementioned punchline, a woman in the front row stands up and gives George Lopez the finger. He then proceeds to brutally scold her while the crowd cheers him on. Here’s a taste:
“Sit your f-cking ass down! Sit your f-cking ass down! I’m talking, b-tch. So sit your f-cking ass down… [If] you can’t take a joke, you’re in the wrong motherf-cking place.”
Watching the video made me uncomfortable. To me, it was undeniably messed up that when George Lopez was faced with someone who didn’t respond positively to his material, his immediate response was to call her a b-tch and cuss her out in a room full of people on his side. As Sasha pointed out “if this is all fun and games, maybe don’t verbally abuse a woman in your audience.”
Listen, I understand that getting yelled at in the middle of your job probably sucks. I have never stood in front of a group of strangers and tried to make them laugh. I appreciate how f-cking terrifying and tough that can be. I don’t know what it’s like to face a heckler but Sarah (who has experience in the standup comedy world) does. So, in an attempt to try to empathize with Lopez even a little bit, I emailed Sarah.
Here’s Sarah on hecklers:
You HAVE to shut down hecklers, you CAN'T ignore them. And you have to shut them down HARD, or else they escalate. I don't want to defend Lopez, he told a sh-tty joke, but your only option, as an audience member, is just to not laugh at it. Or maybe quietly leave (without causing a lot of fuss, because if the comedian sees you leaving, they WILL start sh-t)...
Sarah went on to say that even though she doesn’t agree with interrupting a standup routine mid-set, Lopez crossed a line by continuing to go after this woman. I don’t think I’m down with mid-set interruptions either but, at the same time, I AM down with calling out comedians on the bullsh-t racist, misogynistic sh-t they say in the name of comedy. I’m sure I’ve laughed at some dumb, inappropriate sh-t in my lifetime but if I were at that show in Phoenix, I very well might have had my middle fingers up, in his face, waving BOY, BYE. And if that was me, I would not be OK with being the target of Lopez’s horrible tirade.
Yesterday afternoon, I went on a Twitter deep dive to find George Lopez’s heckler and turns out, around the same time yesterday, a woman called into a local Phoenix radio show to come forward. She identifies herself as black and Mexican.
“When you have that much power in the Mexican community and people listen to what you say, don’t make an ignorant ass comment like that.”
IF it went down the way this woman says it did, the dude she is a “die-hard fan” of told a joke that was not funny and in direct offense to her identity while she was sitting front row. Then he verbally ripped her apart in a packed theatre. I may be projecting here but I assume she walked into that show as an Afro-Latina woman thinking she would get a nice, humorous break from the end-of-the-world f-cksh-t going on in her country. Given his political leanings—which he has made very public — it’s understandable to think this woman thought a George Lopez show would be a safe space, free of Trump-like hate speech.
Is “it was just a joke” an acceptable excuse for bigotry? Yes, freedom of speech. But if comedians are going to say the idiotic, offensive thing, should they also be prepared for people to react to it? I'm sure it's hard to be funny when there is so much risk of people like me writing about you and calling out your unfunny jokes, but maybe the answer is to be more funny and less racist?