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Jimmy Kimmel Issues Apology for Wearing Blackface

on June 23, 2020, 3:04pm

As the country continues to reckon with racist moments in pop culture, Jimmy Kimmel has issued an apology for donning blackface to impersonate NBA great Karl Malone in the 1990s.

In sketches from The Man Show in the mid- and late-’90s, Kimmel was painted black to do an on-camera impression of Malone. He had previously become known for doing an audio-only impersonation on the KROQ radio program The Kevin & Bean Show. Though frequently brought up in the past, the sketches came under renewed criticism following the announcement that Kimmel would host of the 2020 Emmy Awards. Many called the move a sign of the entertainment world’s hypocrisy in light of Kevin Hart losing the 2019 Oscars hosting duties after old homophobic tweets of his resurfaced.

Beyond the sketches, which are still viewable online, audio of Kimmel doing a Snoop Dogg impression while using the N-word also has resurfaced. Again from Kevin & Bean, the parody song “Christmastime in the LBC” saw Kimmel rapping as Snoop and using the racial slur.

“I have long been reluctant to address this, as I knew doing so would be celebrated as a victory by those who equate apologies with weakness and cheer for leaders who use prejudice to divide us,” Kimmel’s statement began. “That delay was a mistake. There is nothing more important to me than your respect, and I apologize to those who were genuinely hurt or offended by the makeup I wore or the words I spoke.”

Kimmel went on to attempt to contextualize his impressions, explaining how his Malone bit grew from a radio segment to a TV skit. “We hired makeup artists to make me look as much like Karl Malone as possible,” he said. “I never considered that this might be seen as anything other than an imitation of a fellow human being, one that had no more to do with Karl’s skin color than it did his bulging muscles and bald head.”

While noting that he took the same approach with his “dozens of impressions of famous people,” he admitted that retrospectively “many of these sketches are embarrassing, and it is frustrating that these thoughtless moments have become a weapon used by some to diminish my criticisms of social and other injustices.”


Kimmel continued,

“I believe that I have evolved and matured over the last twenty-plus years, and I hope that is evident to anyone who watches my show. I know that this will not be the last I hear of this and that it will be used again to try to quiet me. I love this country too much to allow that. I won’t be bullied into silence by those who feign outrage to advance their oppressive and genuinely racist agendas.”

The Jimmy Kimmel Live! host also addressed the theory that his recently announced summer vacation came in anticipation of a resurgence in criticism. “My summer vacation has been planned for more than a year and includes the next two summers off as well. I will be back to work in September,” he said.

Kimmel’s apology comes nearly a month after fellow late-night host Jimmy Fallon was forced to apologize for an old Saturday Night Live sketch in which he wore blackface to portray Chris Rock. Just yesterday, Tina Fey requested that a handful of 30 Rock episodes featuring characters in blackface be pulled. Netflix has recently pulled a number of British comedies — including Little BritainCome Fly with Me, The Mighty Boosh, and The League of Gentlemen — over issues of blackface.

Read Kimmel’s full statement below (via The Hollywood Reporter).

I have long been reluctant to address this, as I knew doing so would be celebrated as a victory by those who equate apologies with weakness and cheer for leaders who use prejudice to divide us. That delay was a mistake. There is nothing more important to me than your respect, and I apologize to those who were genuinely hurt or offended by the makeup I wore or the words I spoke.

On KROQ radio in the mid-90s, I did a recurring impression of the NBA player Karl Malone. In the late 90s, I continued impersonating Malone on TV. We hired makeup artists to make me look as much like Karl Malone as possible. I never considered that this might be seen as anything other than an imitation of a fellow human being, one that had no more to do with Karl’s skin color than it did his bulging muscles and bald head. I’ve done dozens of impressions of famous people, including Snoop Dogg, Oprah, Eminem, Dick Vitale, Rosie, and many others. In each case, I thought of them as impersonations of celebrities and nothing more. Looking back, many of these sketches are embarrassing, and it is frustrating that these thoughtless moments have become a weapon used by some to diminish my criticisms of social and other injustices.

I believe that I have evolved and matured over the last twenty-plus years, and I hope that is evident to anyone who watches my show. I know that this will not be the last I hear of this and that it will be used again to try to quiet me. I love this country too much to allow that. I won’t be bullied into silence by those who feign outrage to advance their oppressive and genuinely racist agendas.

My summer vacation has been planned for more than a year and includes the next two summers off as well. I will be back to work in September.

Thank you for giving me an opportunity to explain and to those I’ve disappointed, I am sorry.

Sincerely,

Jimmy Kimmel