Does racism eat away at the part of your brain responsible for being funny? I’m beginning to think it might, in which case I’m clearly beginning a never-ending series of posts. This time around, it’s SalesGenie’s “Ramesh the Indian salesman” ad that aired during the first quarter of the Super Bowl.
Perhaps you missed that Ramesh Chakrapani, an Indian with an Apu-like accent, has seven kids. Don’t worry! There’s the shot at the end with Mrs. Chakrapani and the seven small Chakrapanis to refresh your memory.
The ad’s defenders have trotted out the usual litany of excuses: it’s humor! You’re just being politically correct! And besides, it’s not really racist!
Let’s do a quick experiment. Swap Ramesh out for a black man and give him over-the-top dialogue.
Hank: DeShawn! You’re my worst salesman! If you don’t double your sales, you’re outta here!
DeShawn: Dawg, I gots seven moufs to feed!
Still feel good about that ad? But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here because the ad, written by Vin Gupta, CEO of the company that owns SalesGenie, just isn’t funny.
Vin, one danger in comedy is coming up with a concept but forgetting to make it funny. That’s this ad’s main comedic sin. Where are the punchlines? What, exactly, is supposed to be funny in this ad?
Comedy in part arises from the unexpected. There are only two things in this ad that are unexpected and not generic set-pieces: the boss’s name and Ramesh’s being an Indian with seven kids. The boss’s name, Hank Bulleymonger, is komedy. It’s not real humor, it’s humor lite. It’s a concept without a joke, and is lazy writing.
Then there’s Ramesh. You counter-sink the “he has lots of kids!” non-joke by referencing it twice, and worst of all, you have the wrong stereotype! Everyone knows that Indians work at call centers or Quik-E-Marts, not as widget salesmen! “Has a lot of kids” is the generic stereotype for poor people, especially minorities, as a whole. It’s not the specific marker for Indian — witness how I was able to swap out “generic Indian” for “generic black man” above without changing the thrust of the commercial.
I’m hoping you’re not unteachable, Vin. I’m guessing this is a one-off mistake that you won’t make again.
Wait, you wrote a second ad for the Super Bowl?
Whoops. Never mind.