Jimmy Kimmel addresses old sketches he did in blackface amid mounting backlash

The "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" host admitted it was a mistake to have waited so long to apologize for the sketches.
Image: Jimmy Kimmel
Jimmy Kimmel on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" on Jan. 20, 2020.Randy Holmes / ABC via Getty Images

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By Doha Madani

Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel finally addressed the mounting backlash tied to his old blackface sketches, saying Tuesday that it was a mistake to have waited so long to speak on the matter.

Sketches of Kimmel in blackface date to the late '90s, during which, he said, he continued with radio impersonations of former NBA player Karl Malone on television while wearing makeup. Kimmel said in a statement Tuesday that he saw the act only as an "imitation of a fellow human being, one that had no more to do with Karl's skin color."

Kimmel said Tuesday that he saw his impressions of other celebrities, such as Snoop Dogg and Eminem, in the same vein. He apologized to "those who were genuinely hurt or offended by the makeup I wore or the words I spoke."

"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," Kimmel said. "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."

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Kimmel, 52, the host of "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" also said he was reluctant to speak because of those who might celebrate his apology as weakness. Kimmel, who has been outspoken about President Donald Trump in recent years, said he will not allow his blackface sketches to be used to silence him.

"I love this country too much to allow that," Kimmel said. "I won't be bullied into silence by those who feign outrage to advance their oppressive and genuinely racist agendas."

Kimmel is not the first comedian to address problematic jokes as they resurface, particularly ones that perpetuate racist stereotypes or tropes.

Jimmy Fallon recently apologized for a 20-year-old sketch on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" in which he impersonated Chris Rock in blackface. Fallon called the sketch a "terrible" decision in an address to fans on "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon" last month.

"There is no excuse for this," Fallon said. "I am very sorry for making this unquestionably offensive decision and thank all of you for holding me accountable."

Variety reported Monday that "30 Rock" creator Tina Fey requested that four episodes of the series that included blackface be removed from streaming platforms.

"I understand now that 'intent' is not a free pass for white people to use these images," Fey wrote in a statement obtained by Variety and later released by Fey. "I apologize for pain they have caused."

Blackface in America began in the early 1800s, when white performers darkened their skin to mock Black people in minstrel shows.

White performers, usually men, derided Black slaves by characterizing them as lazy and ignorant. One of the most famous blackface characters was "Jim Crow," performed by Thomas Rice, which is often cited in the naming of the Jim Crow laws used to deny Black Americans their civil rights after the end of slavery.