It’s fair to say that AOL isn’t the first place you’d visit when seeking out fresh, original content in web videos (or in anything, really). Yet AOL On, the successor to AOL TV, has been quietly churning out some solid original series since 2012. The two most notable of the bunch are Candidly Nicole, a reality/sitcom hybrid starring Nicole Richie that went on to become a funny VH1 series (and earned a second season pickup), and True Trans, the documentary series from Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace, wherein Grace talks to members of the trans community while also sharing details of her own transition. One of the newest additions to the slate is That’s Racist With Mike Epps, a docu-series where the comedian attempts to get to the bottom of well-known racist stereotypes — with surprisingly funny results.
Stereotypes are inescapable in our culture, and each one generally comes with its own argument over whether the stereotype is simply racist, rooted in truth, or both. In That’s Racist, Mike Epps (who is set to star in a much-anticipated Richard Pryor biopic) explores popular racial stereotypes through jokes and panel discussions, but also by placing them within a historical context.
The pilot episode, “Black People Love Fried Chicken,” sets up the format of the show: Each episode begins with a joke (“Why did the chicken cross the road? Two black guys were chasing him with biscuits”), then segues into man-on-the-street interviews wherein Epps questions unsuspecting strangers about whether or not they believe the particular stereotype.
Epps also visits an “expert” of sorts to conduct a one-on-one interview — in the pilot, he talks to the chef at a popular fried chicken joint in Oakland; in another episode, he talks to both an Asian driving instructor and an Asian racecar driver (“Asians Can’t Drive”). Each episode is interspersed with candid and casual roundtable discussions (featuring comedians like Helen Hong and the Sklar brothers) and occasional talking-head commentary to provide some more educational and historical reasoning behind the stereotypes.
Marcia Dawkins, a professor of communications at USC, shows up in the pilot to discuss how the “blacks love fried chicken” stereotype is actually tied to slavery, because long hours meant trying to find a food that would last a long time. In the same episode, Pete McGraw, a professor of psychology at UC Boulder, discusses how a thing as simple as people liking a particular food became a negative stereotype and a go-to insult by explaining that poultry has a lower financial status than, say, steak and because fried chicken tends to be associated with being uncouth because you eat it with your hands.
In the first batch of episodes that AOL On released this week (a second batch will be released in March), Epps makes sure that no one group is off limits: we get “Jews Are Cheap,” “Asians Can’t Drive,” “Muslims Are Terrorists,” and “White Men Can’t Jump.” They all follow roughly the same format, but the most important thing is, again, exploring the context in which these stereotypes were invented, revealing little-known facts such as what the “Asians Can’t Drive” stereotype has to do with the particular way roads are in certain Asian countries, and how driving there differs from driving in America.
The episodes aren’t uproariously funny, but they do each provide some chuckles. In the opening to every installment — each of which only runs six to seven minutes — Epps asks, “Are we going to offend people? Hell yeah!” But his enthusiasm is a bit unwarranted. That’s Racist doesn’t offend, but instead entertains and educates.