ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel addressed his history of performing in blackface on Tuesday, calling the clips “embarrassing” in hindsight.
“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 said.
Kimmel has faced repeated criticism over the years for a recurring bit in which he impersonated NBA player Karl Malone, using makeup to darken his skin. During the run of “The Man Show,” which concluded in 2004, Kimmel also donned blackface to impersonate Oprah Winfrey.
The statement also referenced Kimmel’s conservative critics, saying that the resurfaced clips have been repeatedly used against him in an attempt to silence his criticism of “their oppressive and genuinely racist agenda.”
“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,” Kimmel said. “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.”
The statement comes as Kimmel is beginning a three-month break from “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” for the summer. The host clarified it had been planned for more than a year and is not related to the renewed controversy. “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” will resume airing new episodes next month featuring a roster of guest hosts filling in. Kimmel will return to the show in September.
Back in May, NBC late-night host Jimmy Fallon had to issue a similar apology for an old “Saturday Night Live” sketch in which he used blackface to impersonate former cast member Chris Rock. In his apology, Fallon admitted that participating in the sketch was a “terrible decision” and “unquestionably offensive.”
Read Kimmel’s full statement below.
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.