Modern Minstrelsy

It's your good ol' Uncle O'Grimacey!

Oh no you di'in't!

When characters enact stereotypes for the amusement of others. Named after the 19th century entertainment phenomenon of Minstrel Shows in which white performers in blackface give comic performances, and later, black performers in blackface. The basic format continued well into the film era, resulting in Uncle Tomfoolery.

Any show aimed at an in-crowd can fall for this unintentionally, particularly if satire acquires a Misaimed Fandom. The movie Bamboozled is based on that premise. Sometimes comedy is intended in the format of "We're laughing with you, not at you," but somewhere out there, someone is laughing at you. In other cases, it's a matter of tokenism gone bad, combined with stale comedy, and possibly resulting in an Ethnic Scrappy.

The minstrelsy is often, but not always, played by an actor who is not part of the targeted group. These acts will often involve Blackface, Yellowface, Brownface, or other types of Fake Nationality. If the actor is part of the targeted group, expect members of the group to tell him to Stop Being Stereotypical. If the targeted group ends up liking the show, see Mexicans Love Speedy Gonzales.

Sometimes what otherwise might be minstrelsy actually works, basically through Refuge in Audacity. But other times, it just results in a lot of Race Tropes playing out with Unfortunate Implications.

No connection to Papa Lazarou.


  • Lucky The Leprechaun and his Lucky Charms cereal.
  • Many commercials feature loud black buffoon characters. Offenders include the Too Dumb to Live black dad pouring a whole bucket of sprinkles into an ice cream sundae in the Verizon Wireless commercials; the overweight, truck driving, Deadpan Snarker Soul Brotha beer distributor walking into baseball stadiums converting the fans to Miller Lite beer; and the luggage man in Southwest Airlines hollering, "Grab yo' bags! ISS ONNNN!".

Comic Books
  • Astérix is made of this whenever the Gauls go to another country. Editions used to be run with a foreword by the authors insisting they're making fun of the stereotypes rather than the people, but in practice the stories do not feel like parodies, though not usually very offensive. The comics were pulled from school libraries in the UK because of this, but returned due to outcry from nostalgic parents. Tends to inspire a lot of Mexicans Love Speedy Gonzales in terms of the books that use stereotypes more gentle and harmless, such as Asterix in Britain (Stiff Upper Lip), Asterix in Switzerland (Yodel Land) and Asterix and the Black Gold (All Jews Are Ashkenazi); or too stupid and extreme to take seriously, like Asterix in Corsica (The Mafia), Asterix and the Goths (Imperial Germany) and Asterix and the Normans (Horny Vikings who eat everything with creme sauce), but the creators are no strangers to furious letters from people from these countries.
    • For those who understand French, the original 1960's books portrayed black characters (such as the pirate ship lookout in the crow's nest) as speaking in a really thick parody accent; translated into English the equivalent would be something like "Massah, dere am t'ree ships on de horizon!" Early English translations put this into pretty direct pidgin-"black" speech; although later prints in both languages have discreetly substituted this with undifferentiated English and lost the "black people can't speak our language properly" sub-text.

Film — Live Action
  • Crocodile Dundee plays with this, both straight up and subverted. A relatively innocuous case, unless you use the movie as a reference work about Australia. The late Steve Irwin played a similar schtick.
  • The Pirate Lords in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End are all rather...ethnic. Chow Yun-Fat commented in the press about being a "good boy" and portraying the Orientalist stereotype that was his character. Most of his role was cut by Chinese censors.
  • Spike Lee's Bamboozled is a scathing satire of Modern Minstrelsy, taking aim at the cynical (white) minds behind the entertainment.
    • Spike Lee has also accused Tyler Perry of reinforcing stereotypes with his Madea films. In fact, throughout the 2000s, black comedians appearing in drag as stereotypical fat black women became a trend with Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, and the aforementioned Tyler Perry.
  • Borat and Brüno, two mockumentaries by Sacha Baron Cohen, are provocatively constructed as minstrel shows of people living in third world countries and gay people, respectively. The real targets, however, are the people had by the routine.
  • One of the terrorists in Executive Decision was played by standup comedian Ahmed Ahmed. After Ahmed moved from acting to standup comedy, he addresses his role in the movie in light of this trope.

Live-Action TV
  • The Misaimed Fandom aspect is strong with Will and Grace's gay minstrelsy. A substantial segment of its audience doesn't support gay rights, gay marriage, gay love, or gay anything. They just like laughing at the quaint homosexuals. The show's sizable gay fanbase, however, appreciate the sympathetic characterization and relatively sparing use of stereotypes - Will is a successful lawyer, not (say) a fashion designer.
  • Remember the first season of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers? Not only were the character's costumes Color-Coded for Your Convenience, the Black Ranger had way too much of a Martin Lawrence thing going on. The Super Nintendo Power Rangers game even had him doing an offensive caricature jig. Also note that the Yellow Ranger was Asian.
    • Parodied with a vengeance by My Way Entertainment, going beyond the simple ethnic color-coding to reveal that the Black Ranger is a crack dealer and the Yellow Ranger speaks largely in takeout/massage solicitations. Oddly enough, the evil clone of the Black Ranger is Modern Minstrelsy taken Up to Eleven, with quotes such as "Oh yeah, chicken and watermelon!" and "Now it's time for the black-on-black crime!"
  • Dave Chappelle saw later episodes of his own show as this, which prompted him to quit. See the example in the "Stand-Up Comedy" section for more details.
  • Monk has an unspecified anxiety disorder (although he's described in promotional materials as "obsessive-compulsive") that seems to combine symptoms from every last one in the book according to the Rule of Funny. Flanderization of his symptoms, and constant rounds of bringing him a step forward only to traumatize him further by the end of the episode, have driven any pretensions to realism or sympathy into the ground.
  • The "Asian manicurist" as portrayed by Alex Borstein as Ms. Kwan, later renamed Ms. Swan on MADtv would count, though Bornstein would later try and blunt criticism of the popular character via reworking the character so that she was smarter than she seemed AND revealed (in a one-off sketch) that she spoke perfect English and only acted like a dumb foreigner so that she could troll people for shits and giggles. Said to be based on Bjork.
  • Also from MADtv Bunifa, as played by Debra Wilson who makes Chris Tucker's Uncle Tom Foolery look subtle.
  • Beauty And The Geek. Brainy, socially inept men and ditzy glamour girls. Frequently subverted, though, when the beauties find themselves out of their element and look like, frankly, clueless nerds, or when the geeks manage to come across as savvy. Subverted again when a female geek and a male beauty show up, causing even more cracks in the stereotypes to show.
  • The Big Bang Theory: Stereotypical nerds, who can't even talk to their neighbour without being absolute freaks. Everything they do is to make them seem pathetic, useless, elitist or to attempt to look like One of Us. Fortunately subverted later on by making them all more socially apt and find girlfriends, though this could be read as Character Development turning them into "Normal people."
    • Even more so with Sheldon. Although nobody has ever officially said he has a certain disorder, there's clearly something wrong with him, and he carries out stereotypical symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome and OCPD. Some of the Unfortunate Implications were partially defied in one episode, in which he demonstrates to Leonard what he goes through if something is out of order by making him wear an extremely itchy shirt until he can pay for a DVD they borrowed, from a store that closed years ago and its owner is dead and has no next of kin, without telling him he has already paid for it, to show that he’s not just being mean and obtuse—deviations from routine and order cause him legitimate distress. And yes, even he gets a girlfriend and learns to tone it down.
  • The Spirit of Jazz from The Mighty Boosh, a demented Voodoo jazz musician, as well as the two guitar players Rudi and Spider—who were broad Latino stereotypes—were all played by White guys (wearing black or brown makeup ). Then again, Boosh has a very small cast so those actors tend to play everyone.
  • Fiona Glenanne of Burn Notice has been accused of this. She's an Oirish, Hot-Blooded ex-IRA terrorist whose prime source of income is running guns and whose contribution to every planning session is to suggest the application of excessive violence. All that, and she's played by an English actress, too.
  • The show My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and the Spin-Off in America have been accused of intentionally highlighting extreme Irish Traveller lifestyles and making them seem abnormal.
  • 2 Broke Girls has often been accused to this, given the characters of Han (a numbers-obsessed Asian diner owner who started off speaking pidgin English) and Earl (an older, soulful black man who spoke often of his past affairs with women and smoking weed).
  • Hiro Nakamura of Heroes certainly seemed to have started off this way; even Masi Oka admits he's fulfilling a lot of Asian stereotypes in the role (despite wishing Hollywood's portrayal of Asian men would Stop Being Stereotypical). Asian and Nerdy? Check. Poor grammar and pronunciation? Check, at least at the start (he loses much of the accent after the first season, and Future Hiro has no accent at all). Over-enthusiastic and gullible? Check. However, he turned out to be an Ensemble Dark Horse in both America and Japan, the later at least in part because of the former.
  • A direct example took place in an episode of Gimme a Break!, when Joey performed at a show in blackface, much to everyone's shock and surprise.

  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's "White and Nerdy" rarely causes offense, as it benefits from the nerdy equivalent of N-Word Privileges. It's full of Genius Bonuses, too.
  • Deconstructed in Lupe Fiasco's music video for Bitch Bad, which compares the cliche's of modern rap videos to blackface.

Professional Wrestling
  • Whenever the United States starts experiencing some negative Values Dissonance with another country, you can bet that WWE will trot out unflattering caricatures of the disliked nationality, who are always heels (except when WWE visits their supposed home countries, where they'll temporarily become good guys). Usually these "foreigners" are portrayed by Americans or Canadians, though sometimes from the very ethnic group they are parodying. And yes, if these wrestlers do have ethnic ties to their characters, the "heel heat" can get to them outside of Kayfabe. Examples include La Resistance (French), Muhammad Hassan (Arab), and sundry Nazis, Communists, and Yellow Peril Japanese.
  • Santino Marella does this for Italians, though he's mostly been a face.
  • Cryme Tyme played up long-stale black thug stereotypes for laughs.
  • R-Truth raps on the way to the ring and shouts "Whassup?!" And during his brief Face-Heel Turn, he adopted what came off as an uncomfortably literal minstrel shtick: "I'm a gewwwwwd R-Truth!"
  • The Divas playing up really degrading sexual stereotypes. Things have gotten better in recent years; the late '90s and early '00s were the low point.

Stand-Up Comedy
  • Jeff Foxworthy and the rest of the Blue Collar Comedy set... especially Larry the Cable Guy, who isn't a Southerner, although the "redneck hick" stereotype, and that stretches well beyond the South into the rural Midwest. (Larry's from Nebraska.)
  • Martin Lawrence is often accused of doing this.
  • Many on all sides feel that Dave Chappelle was one of the few who truly got it right. Ironically, he was the one who came to feel that he was just reinforcing the types rather than sending them up and pulled his show.
    • The specific moment that Chappelle began to feel his show had crossed to the Dark Side was in the "Pixies" sketch, depicting pixies representing racial stereotypes telling regular people of various races to live out those stereotypes. The pixie for black people, played by Chappelle, is a ridiculously offensive shuckin'-an'-jivin' blackface minstrel. Chappelle reported watching a white crew member's reaction to the bit and being made deeply uncomfortable by his laughter.
  • Chris Rock has retired his famous stand-up bit "Black People and Niggers" for this reason. His stand-up album features him doing this bit followed by a white fan coming up to him after the show and enthusiastically saying "I hate niggers too!", followed by the sound of a punch.
  • Jeff Dunham has puppets that consist of a terrorist, a pimp, a talking Mexican pepper on a stick, etc.
  • Patton Oswalt has a routine that tells the story of a movie audition he went to where he read for the Gay Best Friend. In the routine, he explicitly compares the stereotype to blackface.
    "Microwave popcorn and red wine, STAT!"
  • Ahmed Ahmed, for the Axis Of Evil Comedy Tour, had a bit about how he had to stop acting and focus on comedy because they kept casting him as an Arab terrorist. His stand up includes a bit where he got a role by trying to dial the farce Up to Eleven.

  • The Producers (as well as its film adaptation) does this with homosexual stereotypes, to such a ludicrous extent that there's no way any contemporary audience could think it was intended in seriousness. (Right?)

Web Original


Western Animation
  • Speedy Gonzales. He's very popular in Latin America; a theory about this is that he sublimates the complicated love/hate relationship between Latin American countries and the United States because, as stereotypical as he is, Speedy always wins over the evil gringo cat/duck/whoever animal).
    • You could also see Speedy as a trope aversion. Where the stereotype is that Mexicans are slow and lazy, Speedy is fast and capable. The reason Speedy isn't shown anymore isn't really him as much as the other mice, who could be interpreted as lazy and helpless.
      • Though even that image is subverted; Speedy's cousin Slowpoke Rodriguez embodied the lazy stereotype — speaking and moving absurdly slow — but subverted it by outwitting the antagonist whenever he got caught. Or shooting him in the face with his Hammer Space Hand Cannon.
  • Drawn Together is one of many who take the "we're not making fun of the people, we're making fun of the stereotypes" stance, repetitively citing how much crap they put on Jews when the co-creators themselves are Jewish. Either way, it all quickly gets really old and consumes the show's original premise, which as you probably don't remember, was spoofing reality shows. Still, Take That stereotypes!
  • Family Guy sometimes delves into this. Especially when it comes to the Irish, partially because very few people - even if they actually are Irish - still get offended by that.
    • The show also frequently pokes fun at Jews, which quite often inches dangerously close to outright anti-Semitic jokes with very little sense of irony about them. The show's portrayal of Christians is also consistently negatively stereotypical. Although it was somewhat toned down after the poorly recieved "Not All Dogs Go To Heaven".
  • Sealab 2021 even poked fun at itself for doing this. In a lounge song, no less. "Too dumb to be sarcastic so we keep provoking / make fun of minorities because of our inferiority / but it doesn't matter, we're only joking!"