Yuja made us satirise sex at Carnegie Hall

Yuja made us satirise sex at Carnegie Hall


norman lebrecht

February 22, 2019

Earlier this week, the New York Times arts section had a hissy fit over a Carnegie Hall comedy concert by Iggudesman and Joo with the pianist Yuja Wang. The Times accused them of sexism, racism, stereotyping and general unpleasantness. Its reporter sought reactions from the three performers but only printed a skewed faction of what they said.

We happen to have seen the message sent to the Times by Iggudesman and Joo. It reads:

We were aware and conscious of all our jokes and included them purposely to make a point about stereotypes, racial bias and the treatment of women within the music industry.

In fact, it was Yuja Wang herself who encouraged us and pushed for this approach. Being sexualized is common in many areas of the music business.

In our view, the best way to tackle tricky subjects is to undermine them by pointing them out with humor.

Our shows use satire and irreverence as a way to criticize shortcomings within ourselves and within the classical music world. Yuja is perceived of as a masterful virtuoso musician; she also has admirers simply because of her looks.

To “poke fun” of this was important for all three of us. When one makes a joke about something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one endorses it. Just the opposite.

Our humor ranges from subtle jabs to blatant punches. We make fun of people’s perceptions of Yuja Wang. We make fun of technology and how it replaces live experiences.

We make fun of people’s perceptions of Asians, putting them all into the same box. About casual racism.

We make fun of the over-sexualization of the music business. We make fun of the music business as a whole.

Our goal is not to offend but to show the offenses for what they are. In this case, perhaps the debate our performance has engendered can contribute in a small way to changing thinking within the music world.

The New York Timesnever had a sense of humour. It has lately also lost its sense of proportion.


  • Mike Schachter says:

    A very intelligent response. To be accused of these things by the NYT is surely something to celebrate as they are always blinkered and wrong.

    • nimitta says:

      I agree with I&J, and called out Joshua Barone in print for his paternalism in the original view. He’s a good critic, though, and the NY Times is a great news organization.

      On the other hand, if I had to pick two words to describe your characterization, the two words would be “blinkered” and “wrong”.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Sadly, the NYT has become yet another partisan activist media outlet which is furiously trashing its once-proud reputation. Having lost that it’s unimaginable that it will be easily recovered.

      Good old ‘confirmation bias’ and political activism – reducing the media to the sidelines and allowing independent or specialist media to thrive.

  • Alexander says:

    …. all stereotypes are based on the assumption that something is different than our own perception of the same fact ( this is very briefly). So those who wrote on Yuja’s sketches and play assumed she is beyond their own scope of life. In other words they voluntarily or not regarded it possible that they are people of a stereotypical thinking. Q.E.D. 😉
    PS Go, Yuja, go 😉

  • MWnyc says:

    Sorry, “some of my girlfriends call me Huge-a Wang” isn’t satire or irreverence – or even humor. It’s just stupid and juvenile.

    I wish Joshua Barone had said so in so many words.

    And no, claiming that Joo was satirizing the stereotype of Asian men as being meagerly endowed won’t cut it. Satire needs something cleverer than that.

    Ditto for sniffing the box that the Yuja Wang clone came in and saying that it smells like sweet and sour chicken.

    Real satire was when they put the Yuja Wang clone on the Lang Lang setting. That was funny.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Yes, it’s juvenile humor but last time I looked that wasn’t an indictable offense. But it won’t be long before it is. A thousand thanks to the humorless, dictatorial Left. They love to control and regulate EVERYTHING.

    • Bruce says:

      What’s “funny” is always, always subjective.

      (I always thought Don Rickles was funny and Rodney Dangerfield was not. I found Gracie Allen much funnier than George Burns. I never found Seinfeld the comedian more than mildly amusing, and could never get through more than about 3 minutes of “Seinfeld” the TV show. Do I lack a sense of humor? You tell me.)

  • John Kelly says:

    The NYT article was definitely a case of “Failing New York Times” to quote a certain person. I was at the concert and the way the supposedly “offensive” jokes were delivered (including the reference to Ms Wang as “Miss China”), it was obvious at least to me that what is stated above was exactly the intent of the performers. The article wasn’t simply a case of sense of humour failure, it was a case of pretentious soap-boxing, as others have commented.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Failing? Their stock has almost tripled since the US electoral college legally appointed a fascist to the nation’s highest office.

      • Childish response, and off topic. Grow up.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Whatever else Trump is (e.g. wilfully ignorant, arrogant, “populist”) he really isn’t a fascist. And he does have widespread support among Americas (even if they form a minority), especially among people who feels they have been ignored.
        Those who politically oppose him would do well to reflect some more on why they lost.

  • Bruce says:

    I agree with everyone that Barone’s original review seemed like a bit of an overreaction; but I liked the fact that he bothered to write a follow-up article basically asking “Did I overreact?”

    I was late to the previous comment-party when I wrote this https://slippedisc.com/2019/02/yuja-wang-ive-decided-to-take-control-of-my-own-narrative/#comments/524739 but I don’t want to post yet another enormously long comment here. Basically, it sounds like Barone was taken aback by the very forthrightness with which they approached the subject of racism and stereotyping, and found it offensive in the moment. Hopefully he has learned something by listening to people who have more extensive experience of racism & stereotyping than he does.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Perhaps he just missed his career as a preacher. In that case, the NYT is a good fit. Anyway, I’m sure it’s bound to go over well with the bien pensant.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    “Making fun” these days isn’t what it used to be. One has to be careful, so very very careful. I look back with great affection to the politically incorrect humor of Carol Burnett and many others. Sadly, humor has been the major casuality in our censorious and authoritarian times.

    • Harrumph says:

      People want “satire” that doesn’t offend anyone, and that is a contradiction in terms. This is why, for instance, Tom Lehrer stopped performing.

  • PaulD says:

    You’d think that the paternalistic writer in the NYT, or at least the editor, would be familiar with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the trademark case involving the Asian-American punk rock group The Slants.


  • Lord Bus Stop says:

    What an excellent NYT article! It’s balanced, informed, pithy – and for me a springboard for further exploration of this topic. The critic did his job right.

  • anon says:

    Suffice it to say, I&J and Wang’s skits would never have made it through the Saturday Night Live pitch/critique/read through process.

    To send up stereotypes using stereotypes, and still be funny, requires sly self-awareness and pointed attack from within the stereotype.

    It’s an art. I&J should study SNL’s “Black Jeopardy” as a case study of how to make it work using black stereotypes to skewer white America.

  • Constanze says:

    Anybody who has made time (and probably shouldn’t have done) to read comments on YouTube or other online videos of Yuja Wang’s concerts and recitals will soon see that the tone of many of the comments is eye-wateringly racist and sexist, and often extremely crude, sexualised, and derogatory. People who make positive comments about her playing are sometimes shot down as well, in equally crude terms. It’s often vile, and often apparently comes from the keyboards of people who consider themselves connoisseurs of piano music and pianists.

    From what I heard of the Carnegie Concert, it pulled no punches hitting back at some of the comments directed at Wang. Yes, sometimes it was juvenile, and the satire was not of the most epicurean level, but probably that was not the point. I think it was pretty brave of Wang to do a bit of ‘straight back at ya’ in this concert, and highlight an unseemly and unpleasant element of the musical world, and the criticisms many female musicians regularly endure.

    Furthermore, a lot of people enjoyed the concert … even if it upset the NYT’s elevated sensibilities.