Sweet and slightly neurotic “ethnic” guy meets and falls in love with blonde WASP beauty. He accompanies her to meet her equally WASP parents where he finds himself under the suspicious eye of her protective and scary father. Things get worse when ethnic guy initiates a series of missteps, which makes an already tense situation worse. This is the plot of the hit 2000 comedy Meet The Parents starring Ben Stiller as Greg “Gaylord” Focker a.k.a. neurotic ethnic guy (Jewish in this case) and Robert DeNiro as scary dad Jack Byrnes, but it could also describe the various times my white girlfriends took me to meet their folks for the first time. So why not Meet The Parents starring an Asian American dude in the Stiller role? It might look something like this:
Yup, if someone like my fellow Offender Roger Fan had stepped into the part, the story would have still worked with minimal changes to the script. In fact, the basic premise of the “outsider” boyfriend meeting his fiancee’s “all-American” family would be even more strengthened if said boyfriend was really “different” i.e. Asian. But couldn’t that character be any person of color–not necessarily Asian? I don’t think so. It wouldn’t have the same impact if the boyfriend were black or Latino even though they could also represent the “outsider.” Why?
Because the essence of Greg Focker’s character is one of a well-meaning but insecure guy who is also a male nurse—the ultimate “feminized” job a man could hold. Let’s be honest, there is arguably no other group in America that is more emasculated than the Asian American male. You could use that to your advantage in a comedy such as this. So when daddy Byrnes and the other characters poke fun at Greg’s masculinity as they do throughout the film, there’s an added dimension that could be explored which just wouldn’t be there if Greg were black or Latino or, hell, any other race/ethnicity.
As I said, you would only require minimal changes to the script to accommodate the new casting. The main running joke in the film is Greg’s name: Focker. Don’t tell me you don’t know any Asians named Phuc. You could still do variations of that joke with a similar sounding Asian name like the aforementioned Phuc. And when we meet a character like Greg’s girlfriend’s super-perfect WASP ex (played by Owen Wilson) or when dad tells Greg about being held captive for 19 months in a Vietnamese prison camp, think of the added comedic possibilities in those moments if Greg’s Asian.
And it’s not only Meet The Parents—I would argue that Ben Stiller is the quintessential Hollywood Asian American leading man who’s not Asian. More than anyone else, he tends to play characters that possess an “Asian American male essence.” And not only as the obviously dweeby men in films like Meet The Parents or There’s Something About Mary or The Heartbreak Kid. Even in roles like the macho asshole in Dodgeball or the world’s greatest male supermodel in Zoolander, Stiller’s characters are still driven by an insecurity that causes them to overcompensate and go too far in the other direction. That pretty much describes half the Asian American guys I know. And yeah, the other half are probably the Stiller dweeb type. So to all the Asian American comedic male actors reading this, maybe Ben Stiller should be your career role model.
But back to Meet The Parents. If you get a chance to watch the film again, try to picture Roger Fan (or your own personal favorite Asian) in the Stiller role and imagine what that bit of casting would add to the movie even if nothing else really changed. And then picture the sequel where we get to meet Greg’s parents, played by…Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh?
(Thanks to DC for his awesome photoshopping skills)