Excerpt from Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning By Cathy Park Hong
“It may be odd that I also felt a “shock of recognition” when I first saw Pryor. But watching Pryor reminded me of an emotional condition that is specific to Koreans: han, a combination of bitterness, wistfulness, shame, melancholy, and vengefulness, accumulated from years of brutal colonialism, war, and U.S.-supported dictatorships that have never been politically redressed. Han is so ongoing that it can even be passed down: to be Korean is to feel han.
Pryor’s rage and despair waver in and out of his concatenation of impressions. When he says, “I’m glad I’m black and I’m not white, cause you guys have to go to the moon,” Pryor’s melancholy lingers long after I’m done laughing, a melancholy that enables him to see the world as clearly as he does. Henri Bergson writes that humor is godless and entirely human since humor runs counter to the sublime: instead of transcending, you are made acutely aware of the skin in which you exist. In other words, Pryor is also “continually filling some other body,” but unlike Keats’s poet, who is without identity, Pryor is always channeling other characters “while black.””