Humor is Not A Foreign Country

On Thursday, of all days, I called customer service. A man picked up. He spoke to me in what seemed like South Asian-accented English, but as usual, I didn’t ask him where he was, even when he said my name almost flawlessly. I generally don’t ask customer service representatives where they are. Sometimes it’s because I think that question would put them on the defensive; sometimes it’s just because I’m in a rush. On Thursday, I was in a rush. Why would I want to connect with another human? I’m BUSY. Um, right. What Vivek might call Badmoodistan. But even though I was Unfriendlyananthan, he was not. And he was the first customer-service representative I’ve ever spoken to who asked me where I was from.

HIM: Are you from Tamil Nadu? [notable tone of excitement]

ME: [taken aback by unwarranted kindness] No, my parents are Sri Lankan. Where are you?

HIM: I’m in Mumbai, but I’m from the South.

ME: Oh!

HIM: Well, madam, except for your accent, anyone would say you are an Indian.

ME: [laughs] Yeah, I was born in America.

And then: Lucky girl! he said. And suddenly, I was not in Badmoodistan any more.

I know that he’s right–I am a lucky girl. But America! America! Sometimes you have crappy sitcoms. He was so nice in that second that I wished (again!) for a different Ellis Island for mainstream humor involving desis. O television, we are your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. Please grant actual funny people, who write about real characters, some humor visas!

By most accounts, Outsourced was so unfunny and badly written, Joel Stein might have been watching. (I guess Vinod didn’t dislike this as much I did, but Heems certainly did.) I was put off by the clips I saw, and didn’t watch on Thursday; I watched on Hulu before writing this post, because I figured it was only fair. My original decision was the right one. This isn’t quite “stomach-sick that I’ve hurt so many people” territory, but for the love of Pete, when did the bar get so low?

Did you watch Outsourced? Can you rewrite a scene, a moment or a character to make it better? Or can you pitch a premise for a different show? Your characters don’t have to be spokespersons, or stereotypes, or politically correct. They just have to be funny. As the Sepia Mutiny comment box says, “it’s all good then.”

(I already thought of the one about a bunch of desi bloggers and their readers, who all live in different places (globe-scattered, dare I say?), and convene yearly in a bunker in North Dakota. So that one’s out. ;) )

Please, Outsourced, get better or get canceled. In the spirit of kindness, I’ll root for the former.

16 thoughts on “Humor is Not A Foreign Country

  1. The pity is that Outsourced will not get better. It has the stink of already being rekeyed and tweaked into velveeta by execs and producers. You can’t un-rot a rotten egg, just dispose of it quietly and carefully.

    And it’s a pity because I DO want to see a good US desicentric tv show.

    Maybe a spin on the sketch comedy formula…like a GGM for the US, but more MadTV in execution? The problem is that it would have to play on an unbrown POV of PoIs in order to get any notice from anyone besides desis, which means corny stereotypes- store clerk, cab driver, Motel Patels, IT dweeb, etc. The finer points of actual Indian issues would be completely lost save for a few.

    An extended family drama straddling the globe might work, but only on premium cable. I think that would be great considering how few Americans grasp how int’l yet very close many desi families are, much less the implications. And I don’t want to see a family consisting only of PhDs, MBAs, and MDs- real dimensions, please!

    • And I don’t want to see a family consisting only of PhDs, MBAs, and MDs- real dimensions, please!

      Was this added on specifically to exclude any contribution by Jhumpa Lahiri?

  2. Whatever happened to Little Mosque On The Prairie being remade for US television? Are all TV channels too close to Ground Zero?

  3. I am deeply happy about the fact that Joel Stein has become Brown Towne’s go-to whipping boy.

  4. My last comment gave me an idea for a sitcom. Little Mosque In The Big City. It’s the story of a well-meaning imam who wants to build a Muslim community center in downtown Manhattan and meets with resistance from belligerent, born-again Tea Partiers. Wackiness ensues.

  5. I hope it succeeds somehow. A lot of very good shows started off poorly including Seinfeld and “Parks and Recreation”. I think a lot of people who are against outsourcing are worried that it will humanize the Indians manning the phones and they cannot continue their hate filled xenophobic assault against them. In fact I have read several comments on articles about the show which say just that.

  6. As a minority group, characters from shows like this serve as a proxy ambassador for our community. I was born and raised in NoWhere, TX and for many of the people I knew (adults included), I was their only connection to India outside of Apu.

    From the North to the South, village to the city, Muslims to Hindus, India is far to diverse to be properly represented by a single sitcom, much less than by a sitcom that seems to aim to capitalize on negative stereotypes. Not looking forward to running into the average Joe who thinks that this show is in any way reflective of who I am.

  7. IMO, in Outsourced, the Americans look much worse than the Indians. The guy who sits by himself and eats PBJs is a classic take on foriegners who live in their bubble. Are we suppossed to believe that Americans would be surprised to know that Indian food is spicy. There’s Indian food wherever you turn. The Manmeet joke, OMG! the guy looked like an ass for making the joke. Indians, OTH, look like people who just want to do their job

    I agree though. Outsourced wasn’t funny.

    Besides, how come the etnicities of the actors don;t match the characters?! THe boss, Gidwani doesn;t look Sindhi. Manmeet doesn;t look Punjabi. Asha and Gupta are generic enough names, so I guess they pass. However Asha looks Parsi to me

  8. I saw the movie this show was based on and thought it (the movie) was sort of sweet and funny enough. I certainly didn’t feel like my time had been wasted–it even had the creepy guy (but in Outsourced (the film) he’s adorable) from Jab We Met…you know, the one who harasses Bebo in the train station. Sweet little movie.

    Then I saw the ads for the tv show and was horrified. Didn’t bother watching at all.

  9. I don’t think getting into the idea that a Sindhi actor must play a Sindhi character, a Punjabi must play a Punjabi character is worth it. That is the same sort of nonsense that Latino actors have to deal with – Jennifer Lopez was criticized for playing Selena, who was of Mexican descent.

    Staying on the topic of well-developed Indian characters on television, I’m impressed with what the producers and writers of the CBS show “Rules of Engagement” have done with the character of Timmy, played by Adhir Kalyan. They went from making him a recurring character to a main member of the cast. Instead of just being the long-suffering assistant to David Spade, he has had a number of romances. Last season it was with an Indian woman, played by Nazneen Contractor. This season his character is dating a white co-worker played by Taryn Southern. The show as a whole is still just a B, weakened by the un-interesting engaged couple. But it is an example of how an unimpressive show, when given time, can become something a bit more watchable.

  10. From the North to the South, village to the city, Muslims to Hindus, India is far to diverse to be properly represented by a single sitcom

    Agreed, that’s why it would be smarter to focus on the diaspora and their daily life and to introduce (very slowly) “real” India; humorously or not. Most Americans get very confused and insecure when confronted with India’s social and political complexity and tune out

    [Actually, the story of a desi family plunked in Nowhere, Texas (or Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, etc.) sounds like a fantastic start.]

  11. Most Americans get very confused and insecure when confronted with America’s social and political complexity and tune out. We have seen this quite a bit in The Wire and Treme.

    • Who tunes out “The Wire?” Can you introduce me to them? Because damn near everyone I know is always like “OMG YOGA HAVE YOU SEEN THE WIRE? YOU SHOULD SEE THE WIRE! THE WIRE IS AWESOME! DID YOU WATCH THE WIRE YET BETWEEN NOW AND 20 MINUTES AGO WHEN I LAST ASKED YOU IF YOU’VE SEEN THE WIRE!?”