Before I launch into the letter proper, let’s recap the goings-on that have precipitated this endeavor:
Charlyne Yi, a comedian/writer/actor (who voices Chloe on We Bare Bears *SQUEEEE*), posted an account of a troubling interaction she had with fellow comedian/writer/actor David Cross (Mr. Show, Arrested Development) on Twitter.
I think about the first time I met David Cross ten years ago & he made fun of my pants (that were tattered because I was poor). Dumbfounded I stared at him speechless and he said to me "what's a matter? You don't speak English?? Ching-chong-ching-chong".— Charlyne Yi (@charlyne_yi) October 16, 2017
Then after he saw I was offended he asked me if I was going to fight with him karate in a southern accent. Then a few years later he was re-introduced to me after my comedy show with his girlfriend at the time & he said "Hi nice to meet you".— Charlyne Yi (@charlyne_yi) October 16, 2017
I will say this:— Charlyne Yi (@charlyne_yi) October 16, 2017
-I can tell the difference between this man making a joke vs condescending me.
-This happened 10 years ago and I sure as hell hope he's changed (or at the very least, he's scared enough to not be his racist self).
HOWEVER it is very uncool that a 40+ man was being racist towards me, being a young 20 year old woman who was clearly on the verge of tears from his first racist comment.— Charlyne Yi (@charlyne_yi) October 16, 2017
David, to his credit, responded the following day with this note:
Adressing the Charlyne Yi tweet below. pic.twitter.com/WMHxH6lZco— )))David Cross((( (@davidcrosss) October 18, 2017
And then he thought some more, and posted this follow-up:
Which is where shit went SERIOUSLY pear-shaped. So — everybody all caught up? Cool. Let’s do this thing!
Dear David Cross,
Do you mind if I call you David? You see, I’ve been a moderate-to-severe fan of yours for a very long time. I spent a lot of my college career watching the shit out of my Mr. Show DVDs, and then rewatching them all with the commentary tracks on. I love your stand-up routines — I even have one of those on DVD too (I have a lot of DVDs). I have an autographed copy of your book, I Drink For A Reason — though to be fair I didn’t get it from you in person, so don’t worry. My friend met you and had you sign it to me. Still, I cherish it.
Which is why I wanted to see if I could offer you some advice, because I really believe in you, David — and you’re better than this.
Let’s start with your first note. Some people hated it. But I didn’t. It’s heartfelt! You said you were truly sorry! Look, you were caught off guard, that much is clear. It’s hard being called out in public, on social media. It makes a person defensive. I’m not here to speculate as to why Charlyne went straight to Twitter to get this off her chest rather than to you directly, but there has been a certain amount of dirty laundry airing going on lately and I have to imagine that played a part.
The incident clearly left a lingering impression on Charlyne. You didn’t remember it the way she did, but you still reached out to her directly to address it. That’s great! Though, if I’m going to nitpick, mayyyybe hashtagging “Rashomon,” one of the most famous Japanese films ever, wasn’t the best move — sure, it’s a movie about people’s differing recollections of a single event, but when that event is “you said something racist about Asians,” maybe don’t co-opt something Asian to prove your point? And let’s be honest, you could have done without the “I can’t believe I have to write this” self justification at the end. But despite all that, it was an admirably direct and genuine response to an accusation that took you by surprise. It wasn’t perfect but it also wasn’t Ben Affleck-level bad, ya know?
And then — you let it fester. You lingered on it. Or maybe you did speak to Charlyne! I don’t know what transpired. But you felt the need to clear the air again and instead you shot yourself in the foot.
Right off the bat, you titled your follow-up note “A Fruitless Endeavor Part 2” — which completely undermines anything you’re about to say. I’m sure, to an extent, the idea of addressing this kind of issue on social media seems fruitless because people AREN’T always good listeners, and no matter what you say it could be misconstrued. I get it. But it also makes it sound like you’re saying that either a) explaining your behavior at all, or b) apologizing for hurting someone, is pointless. Do you actually believe that? I don’t think you do. Because you still wrote this. So why start off on such an aggressive stance?
Anyway — you thought about it, and DID start to remember the time you met Charlyne, in detail! Great! And noting that you were aware of her prior to the meeting is nice, because it’s clear a large part of her experience was the intimidation she felt around you. Acknowledging her own noteworthiness? Good move. But here’s the thing about your explanation for possibly, maybe saying that super fucking racist thing: you chalk it up to doing “some asshole redneck racist character.”
I believe you! As I said, I’m a fan of your work. I can so clearly picture exactly the character you probably slipped into in that moment! You body language, the way you’d say it! I totally get it. But as you also note, as though it proves you harmlessness — you were meeting your friend’s girlfriend. Who is of Asian descent. Which means that even if it isn’t David Cross The Person saying that racist thing, but instead it’s Asshole Redneck Racist saying it — it’s STILL wildly inappropriate.
You must realize that saying something on stage, as part of an act, in front of a group of people that paid you money to see you, is inherently a different context than saying something to someone on a personal level, who has not paid to see an act. Also, considering so much of the current social dialogue is around the relative power dynamics and how they play a part in situations like these (or worse), it’s worth acknowledging that you weren’t just meeting any random ol’ girlfriend of a friend. You were a legendary comedian, meeting another comedian. You ARE intimidating. I’d be intimidated meeting you, and I have never once stood on a stage and tried to make people laugh. I love your act, because you’re basically a professional asshole! And still, if you slipped into a character and mocked me in front of people I care about the first time I met you? I’d be on the verge of tears as well.
So instead of attacking the haters (seriously, why end the note like that?!) or trying to justify HOW the misunderstanding could have taken place, why not just… stick to “I’m sorry”? Here, let me show you:
“Upon further reflection, I realized that yes, I probably DID say ‘ching chong ching chong’ to Charlyne. I say it as a part of my Ronny Dobbs/’asshole redneck racist’ schtick, which is probably how I intended it to come across. I say those things to MOCK racists, but I can also see how that could be misconstrued. And regardless, I didn’t need to put on a performance for her in that moment. I just needed to meet my friend’s girlfriend, as a person. Not as David Cross, Professional Comedian. So I’m sorry for hurting you all those years ago, Charlyne. And if I’d realized I’d hurt you before now, I’d have apologized sooner. Thank you for bringing this to my attention, though, because it has given me a lot to think about.”
See how short that was? See how I didn’t slip up and include the boyfriend’s name, which Charlyne had been so careful to NOT mention in her own tweets?
Look, I am as defensive as they come. I hate being called out on shit. I’m absolutely guilty of the “but that wasn’t my intent!” defense (just ask my husband, who got that answer this very morning, in fact). But the thing about hurting people is that it happens whether or not it’s intentional. This incident may not have been malicious, but can you at least admit that it was in VERY poor taste — and maybe Charlyne had a right to be hurt by it? Just hear her, and accept her feelings, and accept your part in causing those feelings. For someone as liberal and vehemently not-racist as you are, it’s important for YOU to set the example on how to acknowledge the not-racist ways people can still be kinda fucking racist sometimes. I know you didn’t mean it, but dude — you’re not helping your case here.
I still love you. But please, you’re a smart guy — do better than this.