While I was watching "America's Got Talent" last night, a hopeful contestant vying for a ticket to Las Vegas stopped me cold in my tracks. It's not because the aspiring comedian's "talent" -- fairly entertaining impersonations of Freddy Kruger and Al Pacino -- was hilarious, or by any means worthy of the $1 million prize. It's because of the terribly unfunny thing judge Howie Mandel said in response to the contestant, a 52-year-old Asian man named Mark Ofuji.
By way of backstory, Ofuji describes himself as a "massage therapist" and comedian, telling the cameras before his audition, "When I do impersonations of celebrities, people are amazed." His stand-up routine was kind of crazy and rambling, and instantly received two Xs from judges Howard Stern and Sharon Osbourne. But Mandel, a comedian himself, was intrigued.
"It was Al Pacino. It was uncanny, because it was amazing," Mandel said, while the other judges deliberated. "They don't know Al Pacino."
He then asked: "Do you make a living as a comedian? What do you do?"
"I do massage," Ofuji answered in heavily accented English, not without a self-aware grin.
At this point, the crowd burst into laughter, and Mandel, sensing an easy opportunity, said: "Can I tell you something that you'll understand? I don't think this particular spot is going to have a happy ending."
Say what? The more I thought about this, the more offended I got on Ofuji's behalf -- because he is a man, because he is middle-aged, because he is of Asian descent and makes an honest living and was still forced to swallow Mandel's patronizing and outrageously outdated, offensive remark. The episode originally ran earlier in the week, on June 18, but when I Googled Ofuji's name, I found hardly a mention of Mandel's off-color remark, which made me wonder if I was alone in finding Mandel's comment racist.
What do you think, readers? Watch the above clip (Mandel's comment is around 2:20) and sound off in the comments below.
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