‘Fresh Off the Boat’ Star: We Weren’t Going For ‘The Easy Jokes, The Racist Jokes’

By Sameer Rao Oct 15, 2015

Randall Park set out to be on a show that wouldn’t make light of Asian Americans with easy stereotypes. Explaining his motivation in a Wednesday interview on NPR’s "Fresh Air," the Korean-American actor and "Fresh Off the Boat" star asserted that there were already too many negative portrayals of Asians and Asian Americans in Hollywood:

"There were so few examples of Asian or Asian-American lead characters on American TV or even in the movies," Park tells "Fresh Air’s" Ann Marie Baldonado. "And the ones that have existed for so long were either stereotypical or offensive in some way, or just not reflective of the lives of people in the community."

Park’s full interview with Baldonado is worth a listen, but there were a few quotes that illuminated Park’s ambitions as an actor in a market with few non-stereotype-rooted roles for Asian-American performers.

On the motivation to make sure "Fresh Off the Boat," which is currently in its second season on ABC, wouldn’t succomb to cheap jokes, Park was candid: 

Ultimately just having the goal of making sure that first and foremost the show is funny—and really, I mean, not going there in terms of the stereotypical jokes, the easy jokes, the racist jokes. That was easy for us to avoid, because to us that’s not funny. We weren’t going to go there—and do those tired, cliché, stereotypical jokes.

Park also spoke on the mixed reception to the show among Asian Americans:

There are so many different kinds of people and different kinds of perspective[s] in the [Asian] community, and everyone, it seemed, for a while, wanted their perspective to be represented, and you can’t do that with one show. …But we could only do our best with what we had, and I think we really stay true to our story and what we wanted to tell, and, thankfully, a lot of people in the community ended up really embracing it and loving it.

The actor’s controversial portrayal of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un in 2014’s "The Interview" might make people doubt his opinions on stereotype-based humor, but Park somewaht defended it by explaining the work that went into his performance: 

I did a lot of research, as much as I could. There’s not that much information out there on him, because they are just so secretive, and you never know what’s propaganda and what’s real, but there were pieces of information out there on him that I really identified with. There were accounts of him in international school just kind of sitting there at his desk doodling pictures of Michael Jordan, and his obsession with the NBA, and with American movies. These were all things I could definitely identify with. Also, him being kind of chubby and awkward. Those were all things I could really identify with, and so those were things I felt I could bring into the character, make him definitely more insecure and sensitive at times, and those are things I really like to play.  

Notably, his account of his first acting role—a commercial for a Chinese-language station—illuminates the quandry that many actors of color must nagivate to build their resumes while justifying their choices to skeptical family: 

One of the first jobs I did was a commercial, a local commercial on the Chinese channel here in Los Angeles, and the whole thing was in Cantonese, I think, and I didn’t have any lines, but I was kind of the focus of the commercial. It was for these liver pills. …That was, like, the first job I ever booked, and I thought it was going to change my life. I thought it was such a big deal. I remember showing it to my parents and my mom immediately saying, "You have to quit right now. You are a really bad actor." And I look back at that commercial and it was so bad. 

Listen to "Fresh Air’s" conversation with Randall Park on NPR’s website