As reported by The Wrap, Jimmy Kimmel has released a statement apologizing for performing in blackface in comedy sketches several times over the course of his career, saying that the sketches are “embarrassing” to look back at now while also trying to explain why he didn’t think of them as being offensive at the time. It mostly goes back to an impression of NBA player Karl Malone that Kimmel started doing on the radio in the ‘90s, which he continued to do when he got TV gigs—which involved using makeup to make Kimmel actually resemble Malone, who is Black. Kimmel also played other Black people in sketches for The Man Show, and in his statement he explains that he always “thought of them as impersonations of celebrities and nothing more.”
However, the majority of Kimmel’s statement—which you can read below—is about how right-wing critics are trying to “feign outrage” and use these blackface clips to stop him from speaking out against “their oppressive and genuinely racist agendas.” He says that he has “evolved and matured over the last 20-plus years,” which he thinks should be clear to anyone who watches his show, so he won’t be “bullied into silence.” This all comes just as Kimmel is starting on a three-month break from Jimmy Kimmel Live! over the summer, which he says in the statement was already planned before this controversy came up.
Just yesterday, Tina Fey announced that she’s asking NBCUniversal to pull several episodes of 30 Rock from streaming platforms and digital download services because of blackface, and Jimmy Fallon apologized for wearing blackface in an old SNL sketch back in May.
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.
Looking for ways to advocate for Black lives? Check out this list of resources by our sister site Lifehacker for ways to get involved.