Jesse Watters of “The O’Reilly Factor” took a trip to Chinatown to discuss the presidential election. Predictably, he’s now being pilloried for being the awful racist that he obviously is.
Perhaps Watters is a racist, but that’s not what’s wrong with his trip to Chinatown. What’s really wrong with the whole segment is that he’s a jerk who conflates being mean with humor.
The question about bowing that he opens isn’t particularly problematic unless finding things problematic is one of your hobby-horses and you are offended by the fact that different cultures greet one another differently. Asking the vendor if his watches are hot may be worse; I’m not up to speed on negative stereotypes about Chinese people.
The next four interviews are just interviews, featuring several different viewpoints. Then Watters’ true colors start to shine as he uses an elderly woman who appears not to speak English. Rather than leaving that interview out, we get Madeline Kahn from “Young Frankenstein” shouting, “Speak! Speak! Why won’t you speak?” Americans do sometimes think the key to overcoming language barriers is to talk more loudly, but I don’t think that’s the joke Watters was going for there.
Next up, it’s another person who seems to be a non-English speaker. Watters uses this man to interject some cricket sounds before asking if it’s the Year of the Dragon. Since the man still doesn’t understand him, he asks if it’s the Year of the Rabbit. Because it’s fun to say random things to people who can’t understand you.
For the remainder of the segment, Watters vacillates between people offering thoughtful answers, if ones that have nothing to do with China other than the respondents are Chinese or of Chinese descent, before a lame joke about performance-enhancing herbs (yes, that type of performance), and a return to “The Karate Kid,” which first popped up when he was asking the salesman if his watches are stolen.
That he uses “The Karate Kid” twice suggests Watters knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s playing up the old “can’t tell them apart” gag and doing so rather intentionally. This isn’t the first time he’s gone to this well. He did so a few years ago with the Italians and a trip to Little Italy.
The only difference is that back then no one noticed, although Watters isn’t exactly popular now, either. It was only a few months ago that he got into a fight with a Huffington Post reporter at the White House Correspondents Dinner. The HuffPo reporter attempted to interview Watters using the same “ambush” style for which Watters is known. Witnesses said “punches” were thrown, but the video evidence makes it seem to be more of a shoving match.
That would make sense, given that Watters’ shtick seems to be catching people off guard and then heading to the editing booth to try to make himself seem funny. If supercuts of old movies laid over people who don’t speak English is your thing, I suppose it’s hilarious. If you actually expect jokes, Watters’ style leaves much to be desired, but that doesn’t make him a racist. Just a jackass.