Jimmy Kimmel apologized Tuesday for his 1990s blackface impressions of NBA player Karl Malone and other Black celebrities, a day after episodes of Tina Fey’s 30 Rock which included characters in blackface were pulled from circulation.
“I apologize to those who were genuinely hurt or offended by the makeup I wore or the words I spoke,” ABC late-night host Kimmel said in a statement. He added that the reason he didn’t address the controversy earlier was, in part, to avoid handing a victory to his detractors.
It’s part of the entertainment world’s continuing reckoning amid ongoing protests against police treatment of Black Americans.
Kimmel’s impersonation of Malone, which he started on radio and then brought to television on Comedy Central, was frequently criticized by Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity, among others.
Kimmel said he had long been reluctant to address the subject, “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.”
He added: “That delay was a mistake.”
‘Intent is not a free pass’
On Monday, four episodes of the comedy 30 Rock were pulled from circulation because they featured characters performing in blackface. 30 Rock aired on NBC from 2006 to 2013, but episodes are still being shown in television syndication and on streaming services including Hulu, Amazon Prime, iTunes and Peacock.
Show creator Fey, who also starred as Liz Lemon in the series about the backstage world of a TV comedy show, said in a note to distributors that “I understand now that ‘intent’ is not a free pass for white people to use these images.
“I apologize for the pain they have caused,” Fey wrote. “Going forward, no comedy-loving kid really needs to stumble on these tropes and be stung by their ugliness.”
Other examples of how the Black Lives Matter protests have impacted entertainment include the cancellation of the long-running TV show Cops, and the temporary removal of Gone With the Wind from the HBO Max service.
Two of the four eliminated 30 Rock episodes originally aired in 2010, while the others came out in 2008 and 2010. They include the East Coast version of an episode first shown live, in which series regular Jane Krakowski and guest star Jon Hamm appeared in blackface.
The 2012 episode with Hamm also included Tonight show host Jimmy Fallon as a guest.
Fallon, who did not appear in such makeup on 30 Rock, apologized last month after online circulation of an earlier Saturday Night Live skit where he wore blackface to impersonate Chris Rock.