This article discusses the persistent deployment of racial stereotypes in contemporary stand-up comedy and its potential hegemonic or counter-hegemonic effects. It asks whether racial stereotypes should be avoided or condemned altogether, considering the risks of interpretative ambiguity and offensiveness, or, alternatively, whether there are specific performative strategies and conditions that might make racial stereotype humour a powerful weapon in the anti-racist toolbox. As regards the first, several critiques are considered and it is shown that racial stereotype humour, and its reception, may harbour multiple, subtle forms of racism. In terms of defences, racial stereotype humour's role of discharging stubborn psycho-affective investments is highlighted, as well as its function as ‘subversive play’. The article further pays special attention to aspects of audience reception (such as issues of missed subtlety and ‘clever’ laughter) and the importance of the comic's racial positionality in performing racial stereotypes.