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After eight years and multiple incarnations, Andrew Ti’s podcast brainchild Yo, Is This Racist? has become a brand of its own, better known in some circles for its title than for the show itself. The answer implied by the eponymous question is usually yes, of course, but that’s hardly the point: Ti has spent the last decade making our comprehension of what makes something racist more compelling — and hilarious — than whether or not it is racist.
When Ti, a comedian and writer, launched the podcast and its Tumblr in 2011, listeners were quick to submit questions and stories about racially inflected behaviors they observed in society at large: Was it okay to eat tikka masala, asked a fan? (Nope.) “Why there are no brothers on Middle Earth?” inquired another (They’re there, but as bad guys). And what about polar bears? (“Them shits actually are white.”)
A wave of national press followed, and in 2012, Yo, Is This Racist? was brought onto the Earwolf podcast network, where it has continued for nearly seven years (the 30 most recent episodes or so are free, while everything else is available on Stitcher Premium).
In early episodes, Ti’s willingness to school fools on subjects like media representation of Asians or interracial dating felt fearless and utterly contagious, if perhaps a touch cavalier. But as the show’s profile expanded, Ti mellowed and began deferring airtime to famous guests from the worlds of politics, music, and the arts. After 600, then 700, then 800 episodes, its longevity started to feel like something of a weight. The 2016 election left Ti sounding browbeaten, and as a result, YITR didn’t suffer so much as it became less giddily fun and more trenchant: Almost by default, it became a tougher show for tougher times, saddling fans with its new sadness.
But in 2018, the pall that had descended over Ti was finally lifted by a magical turn of events: the introduction of Comedy Bang! Bang! fan favorite Tawny Newsome as the new co-host. A comedian and musician of repute, Newsome brought spontaneity to Ti’s well-honed deliberateness, enthusiasm to Ti’s “being tired” (a not-infrequent state for him), and a stabilizing energy to the show generally. Their chemistry was so palpable that, within 25 episodes, YITR soon released its first truly perfect episode: the fatty, cheekily titled “We Solved Racism Special” (Episode 1,000).
As a window into the podcast’s sloppily brilliant soul, this epic two and a half hour comedy hang-sesh features both a murderers’ row of talent as well as perhaps its most delightfully half-assed premise ever. Basically, after 999 broadcasts, Newsome and Ti claim to have solved racism, so they and their guests are no longer allowed to discuss it. If anyone brings race up, they must pay a fine in poker chips of ever-shifting value. (Are the blue ones worth $50,000 or $250,000? No one knows!)
The dumb genius of this anarchic game is that every guest invited to join this Franken-G.O.A.T. of comedy podcasting supergroups comes from a historically marginalized background. Naturally, no one among Edgar Momplaisir, Dani Fernandez, Joey Clift, Solomon Georgio, Gaby Dunn (and her chubby Chihuahua Beans), Brodie Reed, Carl Tart, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Naomi Ekperigin, and Kara Brown is able to avoid discussing race for long.
Newsome and Ti, by contrast, get to adopt the personalities of “straight cis white guys” looking for their newest gig — provided that it’s inequality-free, of course. The first few guests fare reasonably well, plugging their Twitters and dropping affectionate mutual props without negging Caucasians too hard. Then one guest, asked what she’s most afraid of, responds, “White people!” and the gates come down.
Newsome and Ti soon begin fielding ideas for their first color-blind venture as a podcasting team, including a true-crime podcast called Two White Guys Goofin’ About Murder; a Scott & Scott ripoff dedicated to the musician M.I.A. entitled M.I. Talkin’ ‘Bout an M.I.A. Album, Mama?; and an investigation show called Who Has a Black Mom? inspired by Slash and Pete Wentz. Everyone present ultimately agrees that a Kelsey Grammer–centric podcast would be a smash success, too, provided it’s called Did It for the Gram.
But even this new pay-as-you-joke premise is put to rest when Newsome discovers she’s been shorted some poker chips (Ti blames his chips fail on being “so tired”). It also becomes clear after nearly two hours that both hosts are succumbing to the rigors of a dozen-guest-heavy, race-free record and need rest. In their race to complete a perfect episode, the final and funniest segment in a thousand-episode stretch begins.
Partway through plugs, Newsome reveals a list of conversation starters she pulled from a cocktail-party-etiquette website in order to truly understand white entitlement. Each is a tone-deaf humdinger: “What are the three best apps on your phone?” (DocuSign, LinkedIn, and Vimeo are all suggested); “What would your personal mascot be?” (Two people choose Carl Tart in a tracksuit); and the question that comes up at every party, “What do you fear is hiding in the dark?” Ekperigin says, “Serial killers since moving to L.A … I live on the ground floor. I can’t rest.”
At this, hosts and guests alike completely lose it, descending into the kind of spastic laughter that only the truly familiar — and exhausted — can unleash. You need not have listened to another episode to find this chaotic conclusion truly satisfying, and among the most beautiful full-circle moments in Yo, Is This Racist?’s storied history. They may not know how to solve racism, but Newsome and Ti sure know how to make it fun.
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