NEW YORK – Jimmy Kimmel apologized Tuesday for his 1990s blackface impressions of NBA player Karl Malone and other Black celebrities but said his delay in addressing the subject came in part to avoid handing a victory to his foes.
“I apologize to those who were genuinely hurt or offended by the makeup I wore or the words I spoke,” the ABC late-night star said in a statement.
It's part of the entertainment world's continuing reckoning triggered by the protests against police treatment of Black Americans. On Monday, four episodes of the comedy “30 Rock” were pulled from circulation because they featured characters performing in blackface.
Kimmel's impersonation of Malone, which he started on radio and then brought to television on Comedy Central, was criticized by Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity, among others. The two men feuded on air and online two years ago when Hannity objected to a Kimmel joke about Melania Trump's accent.
Fox News' website on Monday had a story about Kimmel using a common slur against Black people on a 1996 comedy song, and about times Kimmel had imitated the voices of Black personalities.
Kimmel said that he had never considered his Malone skits would 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.”
He also said he didn't consider his impersonations of Black people in racial terms.
“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.
He 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.
“That delay was a mistake,” he said.
Kimmel also had a warning for critics who might use his past against him.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Kimmel made his announcement as he is beginning a summer-long vacation. He's an important figure at ABC; he was just named host of this fall's Emmy Awards and he has taken over Regis Philbin's role for the network's summertime remake of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”
ABC had no comment about his statement.
Last weekend, Fox News Channel guest Kat Timpf mocked Kimmel's explanation that he was taking the summer off to spend time with his family. Kimmel has a son born in 2017 with a rare heart defect; after Timpf was done, host Greg Gutfeld pointed out the condition.
“I had no idea,” Timpf said. “I'm very sorry and I'm an idiot.”
The “30 Rock” episodes were pulled at the request of series creator and star Tina Fey. While the comedy ended a seven-year run on NBC in 2013, television series never truly die, and episodes are still shown in television syndication and on streaming services including Hulu, Amazon Prime, iTunes and Peacock.
Fey, who portrayed Liz Lemon in the series about the backstage world of a television 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 cancellation of the long-running TV show “Cops” and temporary removal of “Gone With the Wind” from the HBO Max service.
Two of the four eliminated “30 Rock” episodes originally aired in 2010, with the others first shown in 2008 and 2012. Series regular Jane Krakowski and guest star Jon Hamm appeared in blackface.
Associated Press TV Writer Lynn Elber contributed to this report from Los Angeles.