Steve Carell became a comedic legend almost overnight when in the span of a single year he took on one of the most iconic sitcom characters ever and combined it with a surprise summer blockbuster about an adult who’d remained a virgin into his 40s. The comedian and actor is nearly universally loved across the industry and with fans. But recently there has been some backlash to his role as Michael Scott on The Office and the stereotypes and racial insensitivities that came along with the character in some episodes. Specifically, an actress who had a role in one episode is calling out the actor and the show as a whole for its portrayal of the Asian community.
The issue with the recent backlash against Steve Carell and The Office comes from actress Kat Ahn who appeared on one episode. This was on “A Benihana Christmas” which was the holiday episode for Season 3. Ahn has come out with some pointed words for the script and the treatment of Asians as the punchline in the episode. She didn’t hold back when she said to the Washington Post, “You’re told to shut up and be grateful. Actors have no power until they become a star,”
Ahn is referring to one of the storylines from the episode that starts when Steve Carell as Michael Scott is getting over a breakup he just went through with his girlfriend Carol. As a pick-me-up, Ed Helms as Andy suggests they go to Benihana for lunch to get his spirits back up. While there they begin hitting on one of the waitresses while they basically get bombed on Sake.
Later in the episode, Steve Carell and company return to the office Christmas party with waitresses in tow except they are clearly two different waitresses from than the original who was being hit on. The implication, which is later thrust forward in a obvious detail is that Michael Scott, in particular, isn’t aware he’s brought back a different woman. Kat Ahn was one of these waitresses. Then, later during the party Michael Scott clearly gets confused between the two women and marks one with a Sharpie in order to be able to “tell them apart” later.
This entire plotline is what Ahn is referring to in her comments to the Post. Her contention, and it’s entirely accurate, is that the actresses were brought in simply to reinforce the writer’s, then grossly comedic idea, that the women couldn’t be distinguished between each other because of their ethnicity. While it’s rather obvious to the viewer at the moment what the issue is, and that Michael’s ignorance is the real butt of the joke, something that Steve Carell often handled with a deftness, this particular line fell totally flat.
How NBC handles this situation with the episode going forward isn’t totally clear. Neither the company nor Steve Carell has commented on the words from Ahn. There’s some chance they just move past it as part and parcel for what the show was during the time, an office comedy that used Steve Carell as the comic centerpiece because the character was such a dunce. But we could see it removed at some point if there’s enough of an outcry over the content.