He calls himself “The Human Panda”, “Chinkstronaut” and “Big-dick Asian.” Yes, there’s perhaps never been a more straight shooting television personality than controversy magnet Eddie Huang, host of SBS Viceland’s gonzo food and travel show Huang’s World and co-founder of Taiwanese eatery Baohaus.
Huang can be the bane of TV executives for his outspokenness on the promotional trail. He’s not the type to be silenced. If he has something to say, he’ll say it damn it. He won’t bow to the promotional protocol of vanilla politeness and confrontation skirting, and in this he’s as refreshing as a mountain breeze.
“I’m not, like, a good-looking dude. I’m like 5’7’’, chubby and Asian. The only reason I’m on TV is because I tell the truth,” he once said.
Huang’s expression of truth is searing and blunt, particularly regarding the stereotyping in the US of Asian-American men. He’s undoubtedly hit a nerve and been a voice of resonance.
“Every Asian-American man knows what the dominant culture has to say about us,” he wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times. “We count good, we bow well, we are technologically proficient, we’re naturally subordinate, our male anatomy is the size of a thumb drive and we could never in a thousand millenniums be a threat to steal your girl.”
And don’t get him started on his displeasure with Fresh Off The Boat, the ABC sitcom “based on” his bestselling 2013 memoir of the same name about growing up as a Taiwanese-Chinese-American in the ‘90s in the white-bread suburbia of Orlando Florida. He was dissing it even before the show premiered in February of 2015. The studio bigwigs at ABC must have been wringing their hands to the point of bleeding.
“I didn’t understand how network television, the one-size fits-all antithesis to Fresh Off the Boat, was going to house the voice of a futuristic chinkstronaut,” he wrote in an op-ed in New York Magazine. “I began to regret ever selling the book, because Fresh Off the Boat was a very specific narrative about SPECIFIC moments in my life, such as kneeling in a driveway holding buckets of rice overhead or seeing pink nipples for the first time. The network’s approach was to tell a universal, ambiguous, cornstarch story about Asian-Americans.”
The network wanted the sitcom and Huang, who narrated the first season, to be “a mascot for America” and he “hated that.”
“Producers of #FreshOffTheBoat want me to say ‘America is great" or I get replaced by some other voice actor... what's a chink to do? he tweeted.
Just over a month after Fresh Off The Boat’s premiere, Huang let rip with another barrage of scathing criticism in a series of tweets.
“For the record I don't watch #FreshOffTheBoat on @ABCNetwork,” he tweeted.
“I had to say something because I stood by the pilot. After that it got so far from the truth that I don't recognize my own life,” he continued.
And then this:
“I don't think it is helping us to perpetuate an artificial representation of Asian American lives and we should address it.”
He did concede that ABC, at least initially, showed “a lot of chutzpah to launch a network comedy with a pilot addressing the word chink” and has since made peace with the show.
“It isn’t like my life, and it isn’t like the book, but it’s fine,” he has said. “I refuse to bash that show anymore. I refuse to be critical, because that ship has sailed.”
But Fresh Off The Boat’s skirting around the physical and psychological abuse that permeated Huang and his siblings’ upbringing continues to be a sore point. He pushed for exploration of the issue but let’s face it, a network sitcom created for family viewing was never going to grab it by the jugular.
“My life was full of violence,” he said appearing on a recent episode of Desus & Mero. “So much of the book was about how I dealt with violence and learned how to deal with the world in the right way and they stripped the violence and struggle out of the show and that’s what upset me.”
In his memoir, Huang’s appraisal of his parents’ conduct is bruisingly candid.
“There’s a difference between hitting your kids to discipline them and kicking the living sh*t out of them.
On top of the physical abuse, the mental attacks were worse. Constantly being told I was a fan tong (rice bucket), fat-ass or waste of space.”
But he says his tough upbringing also forged the outspokenness that he has characterised him in adulthood.
“I definitely am the way I am because of it,” he says. “I am quick to react. I am quick to protect myself. I am very comfortable with people yelling at me. And I am very comfortable telling people exactly what I think. I am very comfortable getting personal.”
You’d better believe it.
Hear what Eddie has to say on Huang's World, screening on SBS VICELAND every Sunday night at 8:30pm. You can stream episodes of the show anytime at SBS On Demand: