Comedian Michael Che's job as a "Saturday Night Live" Weekend Update co-host is to poke fun at popular culture. But there isn't anything funny about street harassment.
A social experiment video that went viral this week gave viewers a unique look at a woman experiencing harassment while in public. The video shows a female actress getting dozens of catcalls while walking around New York City for 10 hours. Che took to Instagram on Wednesday to weigh in on the video, but he seemingly made light of catcalling with a sarcastic apology to all the women he has said "hi" to or called "beautiful."
i wanna apologize to all the women that ive harrassed with statements like "hi" or "have a nice day" or "youre beautiful". i cant imagine what that must feel like. the closest thing I've experienced is maybe when a girl recognizes me from tv and they say things like "AHHHH!! OH MY GOD!! SNL SNL SNL!! TAKE A PICTURE!! TAKE A PICTURE!! I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!! WHATS YOUR NAME AGAIN?! THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!! WAIT SAY SOMETHING FUNNY!!" but even that is nothing like the harrassment of having a complete stranger tell me to "smile."
Social media users called out Che for the tasteless comments.
man @CheThinks looks like a fool right now for his commentary on the catcalling vid
— Irrelevin (@aurosan) October 29, 2014
Che went on to accuse his critics of misunderstanding.
i think some of u are misunderstanding that post. im simply just making fun of something that is important to a lot of people.
— Michael Che (@CheThinks) October 29, 2014
He later uploaded a follow-up Instagram post, writing that he's no longer able to voice controversial statements because he's a celebrity.
i wanna apologize for my last apology. sometimes i forget that i belong to all of you now, and that any thought i have should be filtered through you, and receive ur approval. its tough, because im used to taking risks and finding humor in places of discomfort. but thats all over, cause i have a job on tv. and if i say the wrong thing youll see to it that its taken away. so the next time i have a silly thought, ill giggle to myself, keep my mouth shut, & post a picture with my arm around a more famous person i met somewhere.
Street harassment is a human rights issue, according to activists fighting against it. Holly Kearl, founder of the nonprofit Stop Street Harassment, has described how promoting a culture of catcalling can lead to even more severe problems.
"The acceptance of street harassment, the portrayal of it as a compliment or a joke, creates a culture where it is normal to disrespect someone or to comment on them or to touch them without their consent," she told Ebony last year. "That culture helps make rape okay and lets rapists get away with their crime."
Salon's Sarah Gray summarized the problem with Che's dismissal of catcalling, noting how he failed to make the connection between street harassment and entitlement:
Though comedy is often used as a method to explore topical and uncomfortable subjects — to both confront and understand them — this joke missed the mark. It ultimately reveals that Che does not understand what is so problematic about street harassment: Men feeling entitled to direct their unsolicited thoughts at women — often but not limited to comments on their appearance or asking them to smile.
A rep for Che was not immediately available for comment.
Here's the viral street harassment video which prompted Che's misguided comments: