Whiteness and Transcultural Sketch Comedy

Curator's Note

In Summer 2004, I taught whiteness studies at Berlin’s Free University. I found German students better able to grapple with historical complexity (particularly of the Nazi past) than their American counterparts, but poorly equipped to assess the contemporary political landscape. For example, the German attitudes toward Turkish guest workers closely mirror American attitudes toward Mexican immigrants. Racism is indeed still at the surface of German culture, as evidenced by ProSieben's Bullyparade, Germany’s late night sketch comedy equivalent of NBC's Saturday Night Live. In this clip, creator Michael "Bully" Herbig parodies Star Trek's Mr. Spock while a stereotypically gay Captain "Kork" (Christian Tramitz) orders Mr. Sulu (portrayed as an over-the-top Asian caricature by a white actor) to clean a backed up toilet on the Enterprise. While American sketch comedy is also rife with this clip's homophobia, such vicious parody of the Japanese has not been commonplace in the United States since World War II cartoons (1943's Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips, for example). By the 1970s, the worst Saturday Night Live ever got was "Samurai Delicatessen" with John Belushi as an overly zealous, sword-wielding sandwich maker. The outrageous contemporary racism of the German skit raises important questions about the cultural specificity of Western engagements with difference. Herbig continues to define popular German comedy, having produced the highest grossing German film ever, Der Schuh des Manitu (2001), a big screen parody of Karl May Westerns. Bullyparade's Star Trek parody also hit the big screen as (T)raumschiff ["dream spaceship"] Surprise (2004).

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