As the public discourse on anti-Asian American racism proceeds, beloved NBC sitcom The Office is now taking some heat. Last week, The Washington Post spoke to Korean American actress Kat Ahn, who guest-starred on Season 3, Episode 10 of the series, "A Benihana Christmas." She revealed that her concerns about some of the jokes in the episode were curtly dismissed at the time.
"A Benihana Christmas" is the episode Carol (Nancy Walls) broke up with Michael Scott (Steve Carell) just before the Dunder Mifflin holiday party. Michael then goes to eat at Benihana and invites two of the Asian American waitresses to come back to the office for the party. However, he then finds that he can't tell them apart, and marks one of them with a Sharpie to keep track.
Ahn noted that the script made Michael the butt of the joke, but said that in filming, it did not feel like it came off that way. She said that her excitement about being on such a popular sitcom gradually dampened, as she felt like she was "just there to be the joke."
"You're told to shut up and be grateful," she said. "Actors have no power until they become a star." Ahn has previously laid out her issues with the episode in a viral TikTok video, where she said: "The story line with myself and the other Asian American actress is that we were the 'uglier' version of the actresses at the Benihana. Also that all Asian people look alike; we're one big monolith; and we're just one big, walking stereotype without any personality or individuality, which is problematic."
Ahn is not alone — Office stars Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey — who played Pam and Angela respectively — devoted an episode of their podcast, Office Ladies, to this controversy. Fischer said that the intent was not for the two to be "uglier" than the waitresses, but was sad that it had come off that way.
"The idea here was simply that Michael and Andy couldn't land the original waitresses that they'd been flirting with all night, and then they manage to get these two younger, kind of more naive waitresses to come back with them to the office," she said. Still, both she and Kinsey said that the Sharpie bit made them "cringe" in retrospect.
"I just don't think this story line would have been written today," Kinsey said.
While The Office has been off the air since 2013, it remains a staple of the TV world, mostly because so many people still binge re-watch it on streaming services. The series has already been thoroughly dissected for poorly-aged moments, and this one now joins them.