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As the entertainment industry comes under fire for embracing racially insensitive and insulting material across its long history, changes are being made and celebs are offering apologies en masse. Jimmy Kimmel had, at least prior to today, successfully dodged talking about such comedy bits from his own past, including an unearthed sketch from his co-creation The Man Show, in which he used blackface to impersonate NBA great Karl Malone. But after having previously announced a summer hiatus from ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live!, the host has now addressed those bits with an apologetic statement.
The spotlight on Jimmy Kimmel had been growing recently, with the talk show host staying quiet about his past blackface use, even after Jimmy Fallon publicly apologized (twice) for going that offensive route when impersonating Chris Rock on SNL back in 2000. (Which Jamie Foxx didn't think was offensive at all.) Apparently the pressure became too much, as his public statement started off by addressing the delay. In his words (via THR):
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.
Jimmy Kimmel brought up that his Karl Malone impression was originally a recurring element in his radio appearances for KROQ in the 1990s. As if the solely vocal version of that impersonation weren't offensive enough, Kimmel & Co. decided to bring it to live-action via Comedy Central's The Man Show, which he hosted alongside Adam Carolla. According to Kimmel, he didn't initially grasp that playing Malone was inherently different from how he imitated any white celebrities. Here's how he put it:
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.
Speaking of Snoop Dogg, Jimmy Kimmel also came under fire more recently once the Internet re-discovered the comedian's work on the KROQ holiday album Kevin & Bean: Christmastime in the LBC, as well as a podcast conversation Kimmel had with Carolla about impersonating people of other races. For that album's titular track, Kimmel impersonated Snoop Dogg, going so far as to use racial slurs in his lyrics. As well, the comedian has boasted in the past about fooling people with his impression of the always great George Wallace (the comedian, not former governor).
Even though Jimmy Kimmel was more positive than dismissive about his comedy past in that 2013 podcast interview, he said in his apology statement that he has indeed evolved beyond that kind of comedy, and feels that Jimmy Kimmel Live! is proof of that. In his words:
I believe that I have evolved and matured over the last 20-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.
For anyone who was suspicious about the timing, Jimmy Kimmel ended his apology by claiming that his summer vacation plan has been planned out for over a year now, and that plan also includes him taking off during the summer in both 2021 and 2022. It's not clear at this time whether or not ABC will make any decisions that could alter either Kimmel's talk show duties or his Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? future.
A variety of comedians and TV comedies have seen backlashes in recent weeks over scenes featuring white characters donning blackface for one reason or another, with many episodes being pulled from syndication and streaming-service libraries. Episodes of shows such as Little Britain, W/ Bob and David, The Mighty Boosh and 30 Rock have all been pulled from services, though some stars (such as Bob Odenkirk and David Cross) have defended more satirical scenes for being pointedly anti-blackface in their use of it.
Jimmy Kimmel Live! airs weeknights on ABC at 11:35 p.m. ET. To see what else is heading to the small screen soon, head to our Summer 2020 TV premiere schedule.