Steve Martin’s “King Tut” routine offends Reed College students

November 17, 2017 • 9:00 am

If you’re a Saturday Night Live fan, you’ll surely remember the old King Tut routine of Steve Martin. In case you don’t, here it is, about forty years old now:

According to both New Jersey 101.5 and The Atlantic, the video was somehow played in class as a joke at Reed College in Oregon. BIG mistake! The group Reedies against Racism (RAR), which is famous for disrupting the Humanities 101 course, calling it racist and an enabler of white supremacy, took huge offense at the video. As The Atlantic reports (my emphasis):

At Reed College, a small liberal-arts school in Portland, Oregon, a 39-year-old Saturday Night Live skit recently caused an uproar over cultural appropriation. In the classic Steve Martin skit, he performs a goofy song, “King Tut,” meant to satirize a Tutankhamun exhibit touring the U.S. and to criticize the commercialization of Egyptian culture. You could say that his critique is weak; that his humor is lame; that his dance moves are unintentionally offensive or downright racist. All of that, and more, was debated in a humanities course at Reed.

But many students found the video so egregious that they opposed its very presence in class. “That’s like somebody … making a song just littered with the n-word everywhere,” a member of Reedies Against Racism (RAR) told the student newspaper when asked about Martin’s performance. She told me more: The Egyptian garb of the backup dancers and singers—many of whom are African American—“is racist as well. The gold face of the saxophone dancer leaving its tomb is an exhibition of blackface.”

RAR needs to get a grip. If you can get this offended by an innocuous comedy routine, seeing ancient Egyptian clothing as “racist” and the gold face of the saxophone player, clearly meant to represent the gold “death mask” of Tut and other Pharaohs, as “blackface”, you’ve lost the plot. The “activism” of RAR, though of course driven by motivations we all agree with—the elimination of racist bigotry—seems limited to scrutinizing everything in their school for possible offense and then calling it out. Seriously, is equating gold face paint to “blackface” a way to expunge racism from America?

Watch the video (it’s only 3 minutes) and judge for yourself.

h/t: Tom


128 thoughts on “Steve Martin’s “King Tut” routine offends Reed College students

  1. Clearly the video just by itself loses the context of the ridicule of the commercialization of Egyptian history. In the absence of that context, these students compound the error by making up a new context, an incorrect one, one in which there is a willful racist message.

    I agree with you. Students have a great deal of energy and rather than expending it jumping to conclusions, maybe they should work out in the gym more.

    On Fri, Nov 17, 2017 at 9:02 AM, Why Evolution Is True wrote:

    > whyevolutionistrue posted: “If you’re a Saturday Night Live fan, you’ll > surely remember the old King Tut routine of Steve Martin. In case you > don’t, here it is, about forty years old now: > According to > both New Jer” >

  2. For sure, never show “Blazing Saddles” at Reed College. They’ll go over budget on fainting couches alone!

    1. Most comedy contains an element of ridicule and could be taken as violating somebodies sense of justice. These kids have to take a deep breath.

  3. When touring the American college campus there is no need to look for comedy of any kind. Similar to looking for ice cubes in death valley.

    1. The sentiment couldn’t have been better expressed. And re above, they would shut down the school if Blazing Saddles were shown.

      One can trace Steve Martin’s act back to the British vaudeville comedy trio, Wilson, Keppel, and Betty,,_Keppel_and_Betty who popularized what’s called “sand dancing.” Here are two wonderful examples of their art. I read that Goebbels condemned Cleopatra’s Nightmare, so the Reedie SJWs are in good company.

      – “The Original Sand Dance”

      – “Cleopatra’s Nightmare”

  4. Oh my, protesting this would be comedy to me if it wasn’t so sad. Hope these students like the right because this is fresh meat for those folks.

  5. Command number 1: There will be no humor in the New World Order™.

    This is because, as Valentine Michael Smith observes: All jokes involve something bad happening to someone.

    1. Alexei Sayle (brilliant!) did a joke last night on his radio 4 series – he talked about a security guard at the BBC who mis-pronounced his name, then said – “It’s alright, its not racist as I didn’t say where he’s from!”

      1. I’m v happy Alexei is back on the scene! Do you have an address for his sandwich shop? 🙂

        His two-volume autobiography: ‘Stalin Ate My Homework’ & ‘Thatcher Stole My Trousers’ are treasures. Get ’em!

    2. Oh there’ll be humor. Just really bad – don’t be the first one to stop laughing – humor. Amy Schumer, Chelsea Handler, and James Corden are the new funny.

      1. omg I’ve never wanted to be one of those people who conceives a global dislike for a performer, but James Corden is a landfill methane release fire.

    3. “All jokes involve something bad happening to someone.”


      It is very hard to think of any joke that doesn’t involve some misfortune for someone involved.

      (This is, I think, why so many sitcoms of the 90’s and 00’s are excruciatingly unfunny – they tried so hard to avoid giving any possible offence to anybody, they were utterly devoid of any humour).


      1. Trying too hard to avoid giving any offence is certainly a good way to kill the mirth but I wouldn’t agree that “It is very hard to think of any joke that doesn’t involve some misfortune for someone involved.”

  6. I was a student at Reed when the King Tut skit aired. No controversy at the time, of course. Everyone understood the point of the skit: it was making fun of all the hype surrounding the King Tut exhibition then traveling the US. I saw the exhibition in Seattle, along with a contingent of Reedies. (It lived up to the hype: absolutely astonishing.)

    1. Not the most ancient but one of the most famous Egyptian figures, Cleopatra, was Macedonian. Her father, Auletes in the Ptolmey dynasty was a direct descendant of Alexander the Great.

      1. Fun fact about Cleopatra. You’re right about both her fame and that she is less “ancient” than many people realize.

        Cleopatra was born in 69 BC. That’s 2491 years after the completion of the great pyramid of Giza (in 2560 BC.)

        For comparison sake; the Wright Brothers’ famous flight in Kitty Hawk was in 1903 – only 1972 years after Cleo’s birth.

        That’s right! Cleopatra’s time was 5 centuries closer to airplanes than it was to the great pyramids.

        1. That’s right! Cleopatra’s time was 5 centuries closer to airplanes than it was to the great pyramids.

          I noticed one of the more recent direct-to-video bits of Hollywood making up “the Moses and Exodus” story on the telly times a couple of nights ago. As I hopped between other channels, I noticed that it had the traditional lashing of a Hebrew slave in the shadow of a pyramid being built out of mud-no-straw-bricks. So much wrongness in so few stage directions.
          If you try to make a vaguely credible attempt at fitting a period of “tribe of Israel” residing in Egypt, and fit it into better constrained events, that too would put the so-called “Exodus” some centuries closer to Cleo and the best movie line ever [*] than they were to the building of the classical pyramids at Giza.
          [*] Caesar to Senate : “Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!”

        1. The Ptolemys had heard the line that “incest is the game the whole family can play” and wanted some other options for family nights in – fratricide, parricide …

          1. The Ptolemies (and their sisters/wives/mothers/whatever-turns-you-on) were famous for bedding and/or murdering their nearest and dearest. They were, of course, Greek (or Macedonian) with very little Egyptian blood.

            The BBC did an 8-episode black comedy series ‘The Cleopatras’ about them in 1983. Now available on Youtube. Trigger warning: It has seduction, rapes, incest, murder, infanticide, and nude dancers. And what’s worse, cultural appropriation.

            I can just imagine the shitstorm that would erupt if anyone tried to air that at Reed. 😎

            It inspired me to search the Intertoobz for a Ptolemy family tree. Apparently some of the links are conjectural since it is not always clear in any instance which of the many Cleopatras, Ptolemies or Berenikes was the one in question (and their propensity for marrying their siblings/offspring/parents and trying to write their murdered relatives out of history didn’t help.)

            A highly entertaining family.


            1. To crack an old joke out of storage, the Caesarean Dynasty of Rome were meant to read the Ptolemy family history as a warning, but instead took it as an instruction manual.

              1. Yup. I can’t help wondering how history teachers used to manage to make the subject so deadly boring, when it’s full of juicy bits like that.

                Maybe because they thought it had to be Socially Relevant (TM).


              2. Maniacs in the politically most powerful position in the known world, with a persistent and somewhat ridiculous hair problem and some pretty extreme narcissism traits. As for the incest … Ivanka has been subject of some very public lechery by Mr Smallhands, which was commented on during the erection to power.

      2. I don’t think that Alexander left any direct descendants, at least none that outlived him by much (succession among the Macedonians was frequently settled by violence and in Alexander’s case there was a huge rich empire at stake). The Ptolemid dynasty was descended from one of Alexander’s generals (Ptolemy, natch), who had the good sense to retreat with his troops to Egypt when Alexander died and install himself as the ruler, while the rest of Alexander’s great captains tore the empire apart. Ptolemy was reputed to related to Alexander in some way, but that might have been claimed to give his dynasty legitimacy,

  7. This is nuclear grade attention seeking behavior. What a miserable little world they want to create for everyone.

  8. That skit is terrible. It has caused me to commit a Thought Crime. I have fallen seriously in lust with the dancer in the blue skirt.

  9. Imagine what would happen if these students watched “The Jerk.” IIRC, the first line spoken by Steve Martin was: “I was born a poor black child.”

  10. That’s great. I’d never seen it before. But anyone with an appreciation for comedy can see that the joke centres on juxtaposing the pompous, straight-faced spoken intro with the ridiculous song that comes after it. I hate Dissecting The Frog like this, but the humour comes from the contrast between the pretentious, high-brow intro and the intentionally daft, low-brow tune.

    None of the humour is about mocking Egyptian culture – to the extent that it references said culture it’s only to insert absurdist images into the lyrics, like King Tut eating a crocodile. Note that the song isn’t implying that all Egyptians eat crocodiles, nor that they’re all buried in their jammies. Or buried with donkeys.

    Even if it did imply any of that, the students who claim this song is racist should at the very least have included fifteen to twenty Egyptian nationals who were genuinely outraged by the accusation that they ate crocodiles, or were buried in their pyjamas, otherwise the students were just taking offense on behalf of people that don’t exist.

    1. You put your finger on why the snowflakes hate it. It mocks the pompously self-righteous. The pompously self-righteous are striking back.

    2. Even then, this has little to do with modern Egyptians. It is about a culture that no longer exists.
      A large part of the problem is that many of those complaining have a skewed, Afrocentric view of history. They believe not only that the Ancient Egyptians were Black, but that their great culture was deliberately stolen from them by White people.
      If you ever have a chance to speak to one of those people, it is an enlightening experience. There is a whole belief system based around the idea that Everything useful was developed by Black Africans, who lived in harmony with nature and each other until the White savages showed up and stole everything. It is almost a religion.

      1. There’s a good discussion of Afrocentrism, by Gross and Levitt(which came out two decades ago and is depressingly prescient). I don’t know what to say about it, except that it demonstrates an extreme, almost pathological kind of insecurity on the part of Afrocentrist revisionists; a burning desire not just for intellectual parity with what they see as ‘western culture’, but outright supremacy over it.

        And because the idea of ‘western culture’ as something definable and specific is a chimera that exists only in the their minds and the minds of other, similarly narrow-minded groups, they drive themselves half-crazy trying to retcon history to suit their worldview. They’re trying to compete culturally with a historical mirage. It’s like they’re trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube, only someone has secretly swapped two of the stickers covering the squares around. That way lies madness.

  11. This is the same disgraceful lack of sense of humor you could find in the Nazi or the Red Guards. I really hope these people never become a majority, otherwise the future will be very bleak

    1. Unfortunately since this kind of nonsense begins in the K-12 system and is fully developed by the time the kids get on Campus they are already guaranteed to be the majority at some not too distant future point whether they go to college/university or not. We can already see the resulting brainwashed alter-left ignorance and vacuity of some politicians in the USA, Australia, EU, UK and Canada among other nations and federations. The future does indeed look very bleak.

      1. Approximately when did this kind of nonsense begin in K-12 schools? When the push to do away with corporal punishment began?

    2. Why do you think they’ll wait to become a majority before seizing power? They know they’re in the right, so they have no need to waste time to become a majority before seizing power.

  12. Comedians are monsters. Do you know Richard Pryor set a drug user on fire and then built a whole comedy routine about it?

  13. “… like somebody … making a song just littered with the n-word everywhere …”

    Is RAR completely unaware of the NWA oeuvre?

    1. There is quite the difference between black people taking ownership of the word and white people misusing it. But that point is controversial even among black people who despise it regardless of the source. At first NWA seemed more about shining a light on serious Reagan era problems afflicting black youth, but lacking the high brow intellectuality of Public Enemy.

      Ice Cube and Chuck D appeared on this track that took an aptly harsh swipe at historic Hollywood racism:

    1. I get “The uploader has not made this video available in your country”. That’s racist discrimination!!

      However, I can view this version:

      and I have to say I have fallen seriously in lust with the dark-haired Bangle with the big hoop earrings.

      (Big hoop earrings? – cultural appropriation? – wtf.)

      If anyone ever bitched about that being cultural appropriation they were eejits. No modern Egyptian ever walked like that. (Probably no-one in Pharaonic times did either, it’s just adopting the stylised representation from old tombs as if it were literal).

      Now I’m off to register my extreme protest at any performances of The Woad Song,
      since I am at least as closely related to ancient Britons as any living Egyptian is to the Pharaohs.


      1. The dark haired one with guitar & the big hoop earrings is Susanna Hoffs – a nice Jewish girl from L.A. – smart too, got a degree from Berkeley

        She is 3rd from left in this live Whistle Test version from 1986. The drummer ain’t happy – they used a drum machine for that tune [horrible if you listen] & her vocals are weak so she’s relegated to tambourine here 2nd from left]

        The song was banned by the BBC for Gulf War part I [1991?] as were a whole bunch of other tunes.

  14. I was always offended by the “two wild and crazy guys” routine, which mocks and belittles my European heritage.

  15. I lived for a time in Tunisia and spent many months in Bizerte, a beautiful and cosmopolitan (by Tunisian standards) city on the Mediterranean. I was with a group of Americans learning Arabic at a school there. One night we all went to a nightclub at a resort on the beach where a locally famous improv comedy croup performed. They quickly discovered that their audience was mostly Americans so they spent the next hour and half lampooning Americans and American culture.

    It was hilarious and very well done. It was eye opening to see how Americans looked though another culture’s comedian’s eyes. I almost peed my pants I laughed so hard. Making fun of others is a central part of comedy and if you can’t laugh at yourself …well, IMO, you lose your right to laugh at anything else.

    Someone should do a comedy routine at Reed about Reed. If they’re good enough and enough of the Reedies pee their pants with laughter, maybe that will break them of this nonsense.

    1. I noticed Martin’s lyrics included (” . . . my favorite) ‘honkie’.” Will the Reed students get all lathered up about that?

  16. Telling outrage peddlers and crybullies to “get a grip” will be about as effective as telling snake oil salesman to kindly stop peddling bunk to the public. They’re not well-intentioned people having an overreaction, they’re deliberate hucksters.

    What’s needed is to teach the public how to deal with them.

  17. Totally absurd. How can you be offended when the saxophonist is the great Blue Lou Marini, a prolific jazz musician and an integral part of the SNL and Blues Brothers bands.

        1. I was forced to rewatch The Meaning of Life last night after watching videos on this page. You have to wonder what would happen these days if material like this was being made. Those guys were just brilliant.

        1. I thought that we invented wiff-waff, which some sub-human from the marketing world renamed ping-pong.

          1. As far as I can tell ‘Gossima’ precedes ‘Whiff-Waff’ [or Wiff-Waff] in terms of first recorded usage – but I bet the latter is the real original name. As much as it pains me to agree with the fat, corrupt, ignorant toad Boris Johnson!

            1. If the fat corrupt ignorant toad spreads it around enough, even one like BoJo is bound to get it right occasionally. Just by accident.
              With all the sexual misbehaviour allegations floating around Westminster at the moment, BoJo’s sleeping pill dosage must be going through the roof.
              I apologise to any fat corrupt and / or ignorant toads offended by the comparison to BoJo. I (we) need to think of a more comprehensive description.

      1. Judith Iscariot on the right, girlfriend of Brian, was played by Sue Jones-Davies. She went on to become Mayor of Aberystwyth, Wales for 2008/9 – the town had banned Life Of Brian [1979], but she sponsored a charity 30th anniversary screening without objection. I believe a couple of the Pythons turned out for the event.

        1. One of my absolute favourite Python skits. (“Symbolic of his struggle against reality”).

          Sue Jones-Davies, by the way, had a very nice little figure, if I may say so.

          I find it ironic that, in 1979, the Church raised all sorts of objections to Life of Brian – whereas today, it wouldn’t be the church, it would be the pomo / SJW regressive left (who are utterly devoid of any sense of humour or irony) who would likely object vociferously to almost everything in it. I do hope 2008 doesn’t turn out to have been the zenith of public maturity or tolerance.


  18. Steve Martin is just about one my top favorite American comics (along with Chris Rock and Jon Stewart), and a pretty decent novelist to boot. If he is incurring the wrath of SocJWs, then much is lost.

    There is humor that can play as racist or anti-racist depending on the context, but SocJWs ought to sometimes give folks the benefit of the doubt and try to figure out the context.
    I know that jokes translate poorly across cultures, but now they’re even translating poorly across eras!!

    The key here, of course, is that the Tut sketch is meant to “criticize the commercialization of Egyptian culture”, while this may not come across as obvious to young audiences today.

    THere’s a decent Bollywood movie “Bride and Prejudice” (sic) in which Marsha Mason’s character is a parody of the Westerner who has overly appropriated Indian culture. She has a wonderful line “But, well, with yoga, and spices, and Deepak Chopra, and wonderful Eastern things here [in L.A.], there’s no point in travelling there [India] any more”. Now, here the context is clear that Western New Age appropriation is the target of the joke here. Perhaps to a younger crowd, not so obvious what Mr. Martin is up to.
    (Mike Myers’ bad film “The Love Guru” got upbraided for mocking Indian culture, when it should be obvious that it is mocking Hollywood appropriation of Indian culture.

    But please SocJWs, have some sensitivity to cultural context of humor, and don’t leap into the fray with swords drawn and guns blazing without a little investigation first.

    1. To me nothing is lost, something is gained. Some people *deserve* to be offended, pissed off, outraged. Jerry Falwell for example. SJWs for example.

    2. “Steve Martin is just about one my top favorite American comics (along with Chris Rock and Jon Stewart), and a pretty decent novelist to boot.”

      He plays a hellauva banjo too. My nephew is an accomplished banjo player and he agrees!

  19. Sorry…wrong link…try this one (at any rate, it’s the Richard Pryor-Chevy Chase job interview skit)

  20. The Reed anti-Tut snowflakes are a classic example of the current fashion of “identity” politics. They are of course not themselves ancient Egyptians. But they create an IDENTITY for themselves as RAR activists, by looking for things to protest on behalf of other, sometimes imaginary, groups. If it were not Steve Martin’s skit, it would be a Shakespeare play, or something else.

    This sort of “activism” looks political, but it is rather a form of personal adornment, like wearing green hair or tatoos. It does have political consequences, almost certainly counter-productive, as others have pointed out. There is almost a transaction involved: the kids get to act out their virtue and activism, and Trump & Co. get more votes from the offended general public.

    1. The Reed anti-Tut snowflakes are a classic example of the current fashion of “identity” politics.

      I interpret it as a propensity towards outrage, a characteristic they share with religious fundamentalists. In this case identity politics is just a vehicle for outrage that happens to be convenient.

  21. Surely this was a case of someone trolling the Reed protestors. I find it hard to believe that given recent events, someone would sincerely think showing something like this would be met with a mature and rational response by the students. They had to know what it would do.

  22. I guess someone has to say it:

    Whereas Republican rape is considered everyday Christian behaviour, comedy is obviously Public Enemy number one. Think of Chaplin, Allen, Louis CK, Franken. Not even Steve Martin, Anglo as he is, is safe anymore.

  23. As others have pointed out, the ancient Egyptians were not black Africans. The only exception is the 25th dynasty of Pharaohs, dating from the Third Intermediate Period, they invaded Egypt from Nubia and ruled for 89 years.
    The ancient Egyptians were certainly not of the “black is beautiful” mindset either. In ancient Egyptian art, native men are colored red, women a more yellowy shade, and Nubians are dark brown. Even if one accounts for the stylized nature of that art, it’s clear that the ancient Egyptians did not regard the Nubians as having the same skin color.

    1. You are right. We need only cite that estimable professor of history, S. Glenn Martin, to recognize that they were pale. I quote:

      “Buried with a donkey,
      He’s my favorite honkey!”

  24. Wow. I am old. The King Tut song was hilarious. Will Ancient Egyptians ever get over the appropriation? The Jerk was hilarious too. But this one [trigger warning for those sensitive to the results of DUI] takes the cake (funniest 6th grade memory ever):

    Steve Martin…insensitive clod! Flattened kids are not funny.

    Hopefully these students avoid Always Sunny in Philadelphia or South Park, neither shying from the cringingly inappropriate. Lemmiwinks unpleasant journey in the Death Camp of Tolerance episode? Sorry for the visual.

    Will they come after Mr. Bill next as it belittles claymade victims of bullying.

    1. Had to laugh but one thing made me cringe – it is not a steamroller! And they kept on repeating ‘steamroller’ but it’s NOT, it’s a diesel roller or a road roller or somesuch but it is NOT steam.

      I can’t help it, this almost spoiled the whole joke for me.

      (Okay, so I’m a hairsplitting geek)


  25. Wait until they discover the Morecombe and Wise skit about Tutankhamun’s sister: “Two Ton Tessie”.

    [The joke only works with the old common mispronunciation of “Tutankhamun”.]

    1. They are colloquially called steamrollers, irrespective of propulsion, in some parts of the world. In Birmingham & the Black Country in the West Midlands of England for starters.

        1. Comment acknowledged.

          I have no doubt you are correct, it’s just that the colloquial usage is horribly wrong.


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