‘The Office’: Kat Ahn & Randall Park Are Still Dealing With Racist Asian ‘Jokes’ from the Show

Even before The Office earned its cult classic title, thanks to it being introduced to millions of new viewers due to streaming services, it was still an extremely popular show when it was airing. Thought of as one of the best TV comedies of all time, it has become a staple in the entertainment industry. Naturally, actors were thrilled to have the opportunity to star in the show in any capacity. Unfortunately, for Kat Ahn, her experience on the hit comedy was less than ideal.

The Office cast poses for Benihana Christmas episode
Ed Helms, Rashida Jones, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, Steve Carell, B.J. Novak, Phyllis Smith, Creed Bratton, Brian Baumgartner, Mindy Kaling, Paul Liberstein, Leslie David Baker, Kate Flannery, Rainn Wilson, Angela Kinsey | Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

The Office might be wildly popular, but the show isn’t without its faults. One of the things that the show got wrong more than once was its treatment of Asian actors. Recently, Ahn sat down with The Washington Post and spoke about her experience being an Asian actor in Hollywood. During her interview, she referenced her time filming an episode of The Office, and how her excitement quickly turned to disappointment.

Kat Ahn recalls filming a problematic Christmas episode of ‘The Office’

Fans of The Office may recall the Christmas episode of Season 3 called “A Benihana Christmas.” After Michael Scott gets dumped by Carol, he brings two waitresses from Benihana back to the office and tries to start a romance with one of them. However, when Michael can’t tell the two waitresses apart, he ends up marking one with a permanent marker to help tell one from the other. Of course, this plays into the harmful and racist stereotype that “all Asian people look alike” and that they should be treated as a monolith.

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In her interview, Ahn shared that her excitement about being on The Office quickly dissipated when she realized that she was “just there to be the joke.” Continuing on, she shared that she didn’t feel as if she had the power to call out how problematic and racist the jokes were at the time. “You’re told to shut up and be grateful,” she shared. “Actors have no power until they become a star.”

Ahn is still dealing with jokes from the ‘A Benihana Christmas’ episode

To make matters worse, Ahn revealed that the jokes in the episode of The Office that she was on have emboldened people in real-life to make similar “jokes.” In fact, Ahn shared that when she was working in an office, while taking a break from acting, a coworker attempted to recreate the “joke” by drawing on her arm with a marker.

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Unfortunately, the Benihana episode wasn’t the only time where problematic jokes were made on The Office at the expense of Asian people. Nor was it the only time that Asian actors suffered real-life ramifications thanks to jokes made on the show. Fans will likely remember an episode in Season 9 called “Andy’s Ancestry” where Jim and Pam prank Dwight by trying to convince him that Jim is Asian. Naturally, this plays into the harmful trope of “not seeing color.”

How portraying ‘Asian Jim’ on ‘The Office’ affected Randall Park

“Asian Jim” was actually portrayed by Randall Park who, obviously, has gone on to have a successful acting career. Because of Park’s success, he actually forgot he had a brief cameo in The Office. In an interview with Conan O’Brien, Park revealed that when fans screamed “Asian Jim” at him, he actually thought he was a victim of a hate crime.

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“Is this some, like, racist thing that I don’t know about?” Park shared with O’Brien about not understanding why he was continuously called Asian Jim. “I thought it was a hate crime because I had forgotten about my appearance on The Office. People be walking up to me like, ‘What’s up, Asian Jim?’ and I be like, ‘F*ck you.’”  

Clearly, the way Asian people were portrayed on The Office was sometimes problematic and is still affecting some actors today. Hopefully, with increased dialogue about how Asian people are represented in film and TV, there can be some real and lasting change going forward.