For some fans, The Office is endlessly re-watchable comfort TV. But the workplace comedy has made its missteps, and now, one of the show's guest stars is calling out a major one. Across two new TikTok videos, The Office actor Kat Ahn explained why she believes the episode she appeared in is racist. Read on for her thoughts on the controversial fan-favorite episode, and for a plot hole you may have missed, check out The Major Mistake in the First Episode of "The Office" You Never Noticed.
"A Benihana Christmas" features Michael trying to get over a breakup.
At the beginning of the show's Season 3 holiday two-parter, "A Benihana Christmas," Michael's (Steve Carell) girlfriend Carol (Nancy Walls) breaks up with him. To nurse his broken heart, he rounds up Andy (Ed Helms), Dwight (Rainn Wilson), and Jim (John Krasinski) to come have lunch with him at the Japanese steakhouse chain Benihana. Michael and Andy end up bringing two waitresses back to Dunder Mifflin with them as their dates for the office Christmas party. One key joke that the episode hinges on? The women who they leave the restaurant with are not the two women who were waiting on their table. It's two different actors, including Ahn.
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Ahn shared her thoughts on the episode and her role in some recent TikTok videos.
If you've seen the episode more than once, you probably remember that Michael actually draws on his date's hand with a Sharpie because he keeps getting her confused with his coworker. At one point, he also says, "You know how all waitresses look alike." And then, "Are you going to tell me Stevie Wonder doesn't love his wife because he's not sure what she looks like?"
Now actor and comedian Kat Ahn, who played Amy, one of the waitresses who ends up at the paper company's office party, is speaking out about the episode. It was her second screen credit after appearing as a student in one episode of Law&Order: SVU. This week, she posted two TikToks explaining what she learned from appearing in the much-referenced episode of the beloved sitcom.
By her estimation, "A Benihana Christmas" contributes to stereotypes about Asian people.
In Part 1 of her video, Ahn acknowledges that "A Benihana Christmas" is "one of the more popular holiday TV episodes," and that in 2006, when it aired, TV wasn't as conscious of avoiding reductive depictions of non-white characters as it is now.
"The storyline with myself and the other Asian American actress is that we were the 'uglier' version of the actresses at the Benihana," Ahn explains. "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."
In an episode of the Office Ladies podcast, Jenna Fischer (Pam) claimed that the intention of replacing the waitresses with two younger Asian character was to show that "two older, sophisticated women would never go back to a party," not that Andy and Michael literally thought they were the same people. But, as Ahn points out, it's not as though any of the Asian women characters have agency or separate identities anyway.
Ahn also shed some light on why she took the job in the first place.
"I actually understood why BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] actors play racist roles," she says. "You know, sometimes, you gotta pay your rent. Sometimes you want to join the union. Sometimes you just don't want your agent to drop you."
In Part 2 of her "Benihana Christmas" takedown, the actor goes on to express the need for Asian creators to be driving their own stories, using her Office experience as an example.
"Look, I took the role because it was a role and I was in L.A. and I was like, 'Wow,'" she remembers. "But what I realized is that you can't expect people to create roles for you if they don't know your experience. And that's why it's important for you to create your own content and have your own voice." Ahn says that while "Asian American creators have a long way to go, especially in Hollywood," recent progress has given her faith that the future will hold more "roles that show us as three-dimensional human beings." And for another classic that's having a reckoning, find out which Beloved Disney Ride Is Being Overhauled Due to Racist Undertones.