Though it could have been a lot worse, it was still hard at times to watch former Democratic presidential nominee and current New York City mayoral race hopeful Andrew Yang sit in the hot seat with comedian Ziwe during Sunday’s episode of her titular Showtime variety show. Ziwe’s entire brand relies upon asking interviewees awkward and revealing questions, often in the hopes of seeing them fumble over their words in an attempt not to sound ignorant (and failing). There’s a secondhand embarrassment thrill to watching this strategy unfold—Ziwe asking Alison Roman to name five Asian people, for instance—and Yang’s interview was no different.
From the jump, Yang was prompted to share who his top four favorite billionaires are (“Mike Bloomberg has done a lot for the environment... I feel like Oprah’s a billionaire, and she seems tremendous... Michael Jordan’s a billionaire and he was my childhood idol growing up... and, I was going to say, is The Rock a billionaire now? Is Lebron a billionaire?”), his earnest response a stark contrast from a question that was clearly cynical commentary on the absurdity of billionaires. But Yang’s earnestness occasionally landed smoothly, like when Ziwe mentioned that Martin Luther King Jr III endorsed him and asked “how else are you like Martin Luther King Jr?”
“Well, my goal is to have... Martin Luther King Jr’s vision of a guaranteed income actually become a reality in our lifetimes. I want to be the anti-poverty mayor here in New York City.”
There’s plenty of legitimate controversy over the logistics of Yang’s proposal, but hey, sure, solid answer. On its face, it’s hard to say no to the prospect of the government giving you a check every month just because.
Yang’s response to the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however, was less endearing. Ziwe asked about Yang’s recent tweet in support of Israel, in which he wrote, “I’m standing with the people of Israel who are coming under bombardment attacks, and condemn the Hamas terrorists. The people of NYC will always stand with our brothers and sisters in Israel who face down terrorism and persevere.” His statement was immediately embraced by right-wing figures like Ted Cruz and Steven Miller, and condemned by everyone who has the capacity to understand the systemic subjugation of Palestinians by the Israeli government. The two-week-long influx of violence resulted in at least 248 Palestinian deaths, including 66 children; 13 Israelis were killed, including one child.
“So my question is, as mayor of New York City, how are you going to bring peace to the Middle East?” Ziwe asked. “It’s a terrible time for a lot of people around the world who were affected by violence in the region,” Yang said. “I just hope all the violence ends as quickly as possible and that people are able to live and pray in the way they want.
“Mmm,” Ziwe said. “Do you have any stance on apartheid? Yay? Nay? Cool? No?”
Stonefaced, Yang said, “Again, I just want peace in the region, like so many other New Yorkers and other people around the world.”
It’s hard to take anyone seriously who cannot uphold the importance of peace without also addressing Israel’s human rights violations against Palestinians. That they apparently conflict with one other is telling.
This moment, along with Yang’s support for more police officers in the New York City subway system and claiming that Times Square is his favorite subway stop (“it’s big, it’s cavernous, there are entertainers there”), were probably the lowest points of the interview.
Yang probably won’t be losing any votes for saying that his favorite Jay Z song is the “Encore” collab with Linkin Park, he’ll just lose respect (and he doesn’t get a pass just because he used to be a goth kid). If anything, Ziwe prompting him to share his “favorite racial stereotypes” made him look a touch less robotic: He listed “benign” Asian ones to play it safe, saying, “Are we really into our food? Yes. Do we all love bubble tea? For the most part, I have not met an Asian who is not into it thus far. Do we all love slash live in fear of our parents? For the most part!”
This was arguably harmless promo for Yang, and he can safely say that he’s the only mayoral candidate in demand for a hip Showtime program. But will I ever recover from watching Yang say “Ninjas in Paris” on national television? No.