‘Daily Show’ Writer Sam Means Offers Tips on Improving Your Racism

From left, Sam Means; Means's racist alter-ego C.H. Dalton. Photo: Courtesy of Sam Means

Emmy-winning Daily Show writer Sam Means (who moonlights as an illustrator for The New Yorker) cut his teeth writing for The Onion and Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update. His new book, The Practical Guide to Racism, is a Colbertian satire on stereotyping, complete with countless racial epithets, an incomparably offensive glossary, and tongue-in-cheek diagrams. The book just hit stores, and Means spoke to Vulture about it. Readers are hereby advised to check their p.c. instincts at the (figurative) door.

So how did this project come about?
I decided that too many races had been getting a free ride for too long. I'm looking at you, Samoans. No, actually I was just really sick of this trend of dumb, offensive racist jokes passing for "edgy" humor — people like Carlos Mencia trading on cheap stereotypes to get a laugh. I wanted to do something a little smarter that dealt with racism, as opposed to just being racist.

And it's written by your alter-ego, C.H. Dalton. Can you describe him for our readers?
Professor C.H. Dalton is a blustery professor of ethnography at a small university near Princeton, New Jersey. He's a total blowhard who believes that Indians and Native Americans are the same race, that the Spaniard's natural enemy is the male cow, and that Hispanic men are all dos-pump chumps. And, in the grand tradition of academic racism, he's used questionable science to prove all of his theories.

Who do you imagine will buy — and enjoy — this book?
Well, I hope no one takes it too seriously, but I think it'll appeal to people who can see the absurdity in actually believing a stereotype like "all black people are lazy" or "all Jews are greedy." I mean, come on, it's like 60 percent tops.

Should I buy it for my mother?
Yes, if your mom is a foul-mouthed racist. It is a little "blue," as they used to say; there's a disproportionate amount of material in there about cuneiform erotica, English boarding schools, and having sex with fish. I had to tell my family not to let my elderly great aunt read it — this is a woman who was scandalized by Midnight in the Garden of Good And Evil, so I didn't want to take any chances.

Can you give a best-to-worst overview of the various groups reviled in the book? Who are the best and worst groups in the C.H. Dalton universe?
Dalton actually gave one of his video lectures (at apracticalguidetoracism.com) on this very subject. I believe the final ranking was whites, blacks, Indians, Arabs, Hispanics, Asians, Jews, Merpeople, gypsies, Cablinasians, gays, women, bratz, Sasquatches, the elderly, Draculas, puggles. I hope that's helpful. Everyone reading this should probably laminate that list and keep it in their wallet, just in case they need to refer to it later.

Merpeople aren't real! Why did you include them?
Not to be too heavy-handed, but I wanted to make the point that hating Mermen and Mermaids, and believing crazy, hurtful stereotypes about them, makes just as much sense as hating blacks, or Jews, or Hispanics. The underlying message of the book is that racism is absurd and untenable, and, just as with politics, the best way to point out when people are acting stupid or evil is often through humor — taking the offender's wrongheaded viewpoints and drawing them out to their illogical conclusions.

Courtesy of Penguin Group

Who came up with the ideas for the illustrations? Do you have a favorite?
I was really lucky to get so many amazing artists to do stuff for the book. The illustrations were all concepts that I came up with and that the illustrators then put their own stamps on — if I had to choose just one favorite, it would probably be R. Sikoryak's "white guys drive like this / black guys drive like this" diagram. I just love the idea of taking the most tired joke in the history of jokes about race and turning it into an academic diagram illustrating an accepted scientific fact. I feel like that kinda sums up what I was going for with this book.

Where do you envision this book ending up — on bookshelves? Coffee tables? The bathroom?
I envision this book ending up as president of the United States. It's got just as good a shot as anyone else running right now.
—Sara Cardace