Outsourced: Das Racist, Unfunny

Better known as Heems and lesser known as Young Cocoa Butter all over two witty, multiple pop-cultural referencing mixtapes Shut Up, Dude and the recently released Sit Down, Man, Himanshu Suri is Indian-American, a writer of a blog called Nehru Jackets, and a writer of raps in a band called Das Racist. And so it came to be that we invited him to review last night’s premiere of NBC’s new half-hour situational-comedy Outsourced, set in a call center in India. You can watch the pilot episode here.

I’ve always thought the real way to catch a racist, which is also the name of a television show I’ve been pitching, is to tell a funny race joke and see who the last white person to stop laughing is. It’s always the dude laughing five seconds too long you have to worry about. From that initial thought sprung a whole way of thinking about race and humor in the same breath. That and also this one time in high school I had a teacher who was supposed to teach us about how racism is bad but instead handed out pages of hilarious race jokes me and my like-minded also-colored friends would repeat for the rest of our lives. It’s a delicate thing, walking the tight rope of humor and racial sensitivity. I went into NBC’s Outsourced thinking it would be one seemingly Russel Peters-penned accent joke after another. Although rather than being offended on the grounds of racial insensitivity, I was more offended by how unfunny the show was. I almost hoped it would get progressively more offensive solely so I could have a laugh. I think it’s safe to say I was asking for too much when the writers had to name a central character Manmeet just to get a good old fashioned American cock joke in. Besides, Hardik is such a better Indian name for that joke anyway.

Outsourced is NBC’s new sit-com based on 2006′s film of the same name. The big lesson you’ll learn from the movie, apparently, is that India’s not so bad. Thanks! The TV show is based around Todd Dempsey, a 20-something American who returns to his job at Mid-American Novelties to find out his entire staff has been laid off and their responsibilities shipped off to a call center in Mumbai. The fact that most foreign call centers in India exist in Gurgaon, outside the capital of Delhi, hella far away, doesn’t matter as much because the show is clearly filmed on set in California. I would Gawker-write my way through a witty-ish-but-not-quite recap but it’s super boring so I’ll save us both the time. The gist of things is this dude has to train all these Indians who appear to be bad at their job. Surprisingly, in just ONE day everyone at the call center figured out how to sell these novelty items to Americans. Even the super quiet, docile, kind of hot Indian girl, not to be confused with the super hot Indian girl that’s clearly British, was able to make a sale. There’s also a potential love interest in the Australian lady that heads up another call center. (Sidebar: are all Indian call centers run by white people? Maybe it’s below the pay grade of the thousands of Indians that come here on H-1 Visas to run IT teams at investment banks and software companies for six and seven figure salaries.) Maybe he’ll think he likes the Australian lady, but then realize he really loves the hot Indian (British) lady and that love is bigger than cultural differences! In a way the show can trick you into thinking it’s post-race (which is already a trick), fitting in cultural observations on Americans (we eat hamburgers! we waste money!) and Indians (we don’t eat cows! we want American jobs!) in one 30-minute episode. If you’re confused between the “we”s, welcome to my life or that of any American of _________ descent. No that’s a joke, because you’ll never really understand.

A week ago I was interviewed by an Indian blog and I spoke about the increased visibility of South Asians in American pop culture citing Jay Sean and NBC’s Thursday comedy line-up specifically. Prior to tonight’s airing of Outsourced, the only South Asians NBC’s Thursday lineup included were Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari, Danny Pudi, and Maulik Pancholy. That was enough. We were happy. We were content with these four actors we could laugh with and not at. None of these characters were the punchlines of racially insensitive humor. Maulik Pancholy, better known as whatever Jack Donaghy’s assistant’s name is on the show, was kind of an easy target for jokes but none of them had to do with his race. For me, increased visibility meant less talentless tools can progress in the arts solely by virtue of American racism (read: their being Indian, different, exotic) and that people were beginning to see us for more than our food and labor. Literally three days later Outsourced, a show about work that’s 30% Indian food jokes, airs and we’re back at square one. Besides, what 20-something, college-educated American professional who would head to India before looking for a new job hasn’t ever had Indian food? At one point the main character identifies a dish as “yellow and green stuff”. You know that’s Saag Paneer dude.

I have to wonder if NBC would risk walking the delicate tight rope of race and humor had Slumdog Millionaire not been so popular. It’s the same thinking behind Universal Records linking up with Desihits.com, a website promoting the type of Indian-American music that makes me vomit, to start Desi Hits Universal!, a label that plans to follow in the successful footsteps of songs like “JAI HO” off the Slumdog soundtrack (the type of Indian-American music that makes me vomit). Label execs had no hesitation to talk about the Latin explosion while talking about this recent label launch. (Source: New York Times.) (I have to say, I’m worried about how we’ll compare to Latinos. They’ve been in this country for ages. Though it’s the only gem their explosion left us with, how can my people come up with anything close to as good as Enrique Iglesias’ pop classic “Escape.” It’s impossible. Plus Spanish is at least a romance language).

While Outsourced is great in that it puts more Indian actors on TV, the question of cost has to be asked. I defer to African-Americans on issues of minstrel in this country and whether it’s worth it or not. Oh, nah? It’s not. Okay. What the fuck!!! While part of me wants this show to succeed because I know Panjabi MC only has one successful song and they’re going to look towards other artists to throw sync money at, I still hope this show tanks and a bunch of suits realize we (Indian people) just became visible on television and in film in this country so there’s no need to jump the gun? Jump the shark? (That one joke about Indians being bad at American expressions was a good one in retrospect). Besides, there’s a funny way to do racial humor and office jokes and Outsourced is not it. This is:

For more from Heems, there’s @heems, @DasRacist, Nehru Jackets, these two mixtapes, and these impressive moves at the ’Gum Bowl.

Comments (55)
  1. The show is funny as fuck because if you call for tech help you just get a habeeb giving you the runaround on the phone. It is actually a good show because it confronts these stereotypes and proves that Indian people are just the same as us. I am an Indian American, and I think the humor is spot on.

    Shame on you

  2. Really well written article, will be giving this show a miss…. but I probably would’ve anyway to be honest. It looks baaaad.

  3. Well put, Heems. The new record is fantastic as well.

  4. what is this guy so mad at? does anyone really expect a thoughtful, understanding commentary about indian call-center culture from nbc, in sitcom form no less? heems is just shooting fish in a barrel. i mean, what don’t network execs get wrong? if nbc wanted to market a show specifically for indian-americans, they would have just gotten some indian-american writers to develop scripts for a largely indian-american cast, but apparently they’d rather make a fish-out-of-water story in which indian culture plays the foil. that way, their overwhelmingly white audiences can identify better. seriously, what do you expect? i understand that he’s indian-american so it might be personal, but it seems to me that he could have made the issue something bigger, like the way network tv distills most unfamiliar cultures into amusing oddities that others (i.e. people that don’t have much exposure to the culture in question) don’t understand, or the frequent white-washing of characters regardless of ethnicity. i don’t watch tv very much because i don’t think it reflects real life very well, but if anyone knows of a show on network tv that actually does, i’d be interested to know what it is.

    • He’s mad for all of the reasons he listed in his Op-Ed piece. You should really read it.

      • hahaha good one. did you read past my first sentence? hard to tell from your response. let me clarify: outsourced looks like it’s an unfunny show that does a poor job of portraying indian-americans. i agree with everything heems is saying. my point is that a shitty nbc sitcom is an easy target and if he wanted to, he could have gone for something bigger, like how unfamiliar cultures in general are white-washed/reduced to stereotypes or quirky accents, or what that says about who tv executives think the average tv consumer is. i’m all for a program about indian-americans that gets it right, but i don’t think anyone anywhere thinks outsourced is that show.

    • Haha yeah. Let’s just say they should outsource their rapping instead of writing this op-ed. Dudes don’t know what they are talking about. Stereogum editors are losing it by giving the keys over to just any one.

      • i disagree. i liked the op-ed, and i agree with most of his points, but i think it speaks more to the absurdity of network sitcoms than to some kind of ominous racist characterization of indian-americans by white people. he says it himself in the first paragraph: “Although rather than being offended on the grounds of racial insensitivity, I was more offended by how unfunny the show was.” furthermore, i’m curious to know if heems would direct some of his anger (or whatever it is) to the show’s indian-american actors. at least half the cast has indian ethnicity. he praises nbc for putting more indian actors on tv, but then he rips the shows they’re in for being racist. is he saying the actors shouldn’t shoulder any of the blame?

        • now i remember why i don’t post on stereogum articles like this. if you offer a simple critique of some partially famous dude’s opinion on a massively complicated issue, even if you agree in principle, people (fanboys?) will disagree but they never quite step up enough to let you know why. an op-ed like this could benefit from an honest, sarcasm-free discussion board. otherwise, the site is just wasting their time publishing it. maybe that’s not your average stereogum reader’s preference, though, who knows…

  5. So good. Weekly recaps for Videogum please?

  6. My DVR caught a little of it while recording The Office. Didn’t care for those three minutes.

  7. I enjoyed your article, it was thoughtful and interesting. But the way you look for racists is by waiting to see which WHITE person laughs longest? Haha, sorry if you’re being ironic in a way that’s beyond me or whatever but isn’t that sort of racist? Did you know people who aren’t white can be racist, too? It’s true. While you’re on your quest to find the most racist of all (super important job!), you should broaden your criteria so you can evaluate all the racists.

    • Yeah those dudes are full of it. Long live the new movement.

      • I don’t think anyone’s full of it (well, some people are. But not anyone who wrote this article, I mean.)…like I said I found the article interesting. I just thought that was a pretty heavy touch to start an article about the subtle and not-subtle ways racism can work and be evidenced in pop culture. “Whites are the worst (best?) at racism!” is a sort of benign comment, but in the context of this article it seemed like the wrong thing to say, unless he was being sincere, in which case…well, i think he’s wrong and maybe a little bit racist.

    • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

      • Whoa guy–I’m not sure where you got the impression that I was suffering. The pre-rehearsed lines you just threw out are the perfect response to someone who was acting offended because of the possibility of a racist comment–read my comment again and see if you can find that.

        Again, the point I was trying to make is that racism is a very complicated issue that needs more nuanced understanding than, for example “I’m assuming you’re white because you commented about a possibly racist comment about white people and white people shouldn’t say anything critical about racism because of how they’re privileged or something that doesn’t really apply to the point you’re making.”

        “Whites are privileged so SHUT UP about racism white people!” is a knee-jerk reaction that is not only a lazy response to an important issue, but also really counter-productive.

        I don’t mean to be all preachy here, but your comment came off sort of snide and angry, and I think you’re sort of misguided in that anger. And again, I think it’s relevant in the context of this article that’s actually kind of about racism.

      • jesus, dude, calm down. judging by their music, i would say that some of his main point-making tools are humor and sarcasm, which unfortunately are not so easily translated to print. so in that respect, it’s kind of an inflammatory way to start talking about an inflammatory subject. if a minority knows how it feels to be lumped into a group unfairly, then surely they can understand how it might feel to get lumped unfairly into the “white oppressor” group. it’s offensive to be preemptively called something you’re not, regardless of your race. i think we’re all on the same side, which is that the show will in fact tank and sooner or later there will be indian actors on american tv who say and do things that have nothing to do with indian-ness, or do, but accurately. that’s what we’re all hoping for here.

  8. whites still have all the power in this country, minorities, while they obviously can be racist, don’t have the visceral impact that majority racism does. a black guy saying racist things about white people doesn’t amount to shit because no one will take him seriously (white) people write off minister Farrakhan and the like by saying their just being uppity. john mccain/glenn beck saying racist stuff on the other hand get to be on mainstream national tv everyday.

    • *they’re

      • Sure, that’s true, but I guess my point also lies in your inference that when black people are racist they’re racist towards white people. There also exists African Americans with really negative views of Latinos or Asians or Middle Easterners (and all other possible combinations), and having such a white-centric view of racism doesn’t really help anyone’s understanding of or ability to address the issue. I certainly wouldn’t argue that that’s a reality everyone needs to be addressing all the time, but again–in an article that’s supposed to talk about delicate issues related to possibly racist portrayals of an ethnicity, it seems like a really poor starting point, if the author wanted anyone to read his article with the belief that he had a lot of authority on the matter.

        If you want to talk about which people groups’ racism impacts the country the most or does the most harm, that’s a different discussion. But that wasn’t the point I was trying to make.

        • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

          • what i think you’re really getting at is that people with power are people with money, and in america those people tend to be white. i don’t think you can deny that there are homeless or uneducated or drug-addicted white people, or white southerners who are discriminated against based on their voices, or white people out in the sticks so poor they have to eat dirt and collect tin cans to survive. i don’t think anyone has ever watched jerry springer and said hey, that white trash guy won’t ever have to worry about anything because he’s white. so when you say something like “you wont ever have to worry about it nor have your type ever had to” i think you’re basically refuting yourself. racism is fueled by the ignorant, which any “type” can be.

          • Wow, I disagree with almost everything you said in this comment. I don’t even know how to respond. It doesn’t seem likely we’ll see eye to eye on this, so I’ll just leave it at that, I guess…I respectfully disagree with you, sir.

  9. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  10. This show is garbage for all the reasons you mentioned but also for it’s lazy insert-foreigner-here xenophobia.
    White man looks at burrito, scratches his head and says “what no bread?”
    White man looks at chinese food, scratches his head and says “what no fork?”
    It is asking too much for the viewer to suspend disbelief that an American professional would not have come across Indian food, or turbans or Indians for that matter or at the very least have a wee grasp of multiculturalism. And it expects too little of the viewer if these weak-ass gags are supposed to illicit actual laughter.

    • This I agree with. Better comedies (30 rock, Community (IMO)) would acknowledge and play with these kind of stereotypes. The clueless american in a foreign country is way too obvious for smarter comedies.

  11. Did you ever see The Papdits? It was a series that was canned before it went on, but was on the web for a while. It was the opposite story, a family from Kashmir in the midwest. I thought it was funny, but I’m not south Asian. Haven’t seen this Outsourced thing yet. Having dealt with outsourced workers, I can garONtee the premise is false from the start, there is no need for any foreign management, they have a very well-educated workforce over there, and really good technical and business schools — I dont’ think there would ever be a need to import supervisors from the west. That is so ignorant, from the start.

  12. ha ha ha ha

  13. Outsourced is a GREAT show.

    I’m not joking,
    just joking
    I am joking
    Just joking,
    I’m not joking.

  14. Late addition:

    I’m a white American of German descent and I’ve become weirdly sensitive to the ceaseless Nazi jokes people endlessly laugh at. So if someone as superior as myself* can take offense to endless ribbing directed at my nation of familial origin I’m sure everyone else must be perpetually fatigued by feeling like they should be good humored about people taking liberties with their cultural group’s best known traits.

    *Just kidding! See! I have a sense of humor about German/Nazi stuff but it’s also tiresome. Also note my Red Skull avatar!

  15. I found the show interesting only because I am currently in a very similar situation (white man sent to southeast asia to help train and open a call center). that being said, the show is not funny

  16. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  17. I’m Indian, and I liked it because it was damn funny. But I’m tired of defending it against accusations of racism from people who clearly don’t know what they’re talking about.

  18. Judging by an ad for Outsourced featuring one of the main characters holding a toilet-shaped coffee mug, I highly doubt that many of the stereogum readers are the target demographic for this sitcom.

    • Outsourced is awful, but easy tiger, StErEoGUM!i!i isn’t exactly the pinnacle of intellectual discourse.

      Novelty=Toilet Mugs/Cheeseheads

      or

      Novelty=Political grandstanding sandwiched between Bieber news and videos of chubby kids dancing

  19. I love horrible TV. I think I laughed one time during this entire show. Not like, it had me smiling, but not really laughing, but like, i just had my mouth hanging open in a “what the fuck is happening on my show-shower” kind of way.

    ALSO I was wondering, what Indian office is on the ground floor, with huge picture windows, looking out on a market from the 18th century? TIME WINDOWS.

  20. So this show is about Injuns?

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  22. I’d be willing to make a good size wager that the majority demographic of Das Racist’s demographic is self deprecating white male twenty somethings scratching their heads and wondering if they’re supposed to more sensitive or less, so it’s a little difficult to tell the movement from the market. We all love satire because we like feeling superior, but it’s not really worth much for getting people off their asses to take social action. Mostly it just makes the pandered to more smug and complacent, and the satirized more bitter and obstinate.

  23. Hey Himanshu. You opened for me at a show last year. You’ll remember.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYpo3YBHkgw

  24. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  25. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

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