Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel apologized Tuesday for a series of impressions he did in the past of Black celebrities, such as former NBA player Karl Malone, but said he believes he has “evolved and matured over the last twenty-plus years” and intended to continue to speak out on causes he believed were worthy of discussion on his ABC show.
“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,” Kimmel said in a prepared statement. “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 has come under scrutiny in recent days after a series of appearances he made in the past have re-surfaced on social media. An announcement that he had decided to take the summer off from hosting “Jimmy Kimmel Live” exacerbated speculation. But the vacation “has been planned for more than a year and includes the next two summers off as well,” Kimmel said. “I will be back to work in September.“
Kimmel’s mea culpa comes after his main rival on NBC, Jimmy Fallon, apologized for doing an impression of comedian Chris Rock on “Saturday Night Live” in 2000 after a clip of it surfaced online. Fallon also spent time on “Tonight” discussing the issues around the appearance. Many celebrities and producers have found their past work under a microscope as the nation grapples with how people of different races and backgrounds are treated as the result of protests over the recent death of George Floyd while in the custody of the Minneapolis police. Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, co-producers of the NBC sitcom “30 Rock,” told distributors they were removing a handful of episodes that depicted some characters dressing in blackface.
Some of Kimmel’s impressions were done during his stint as an on-air personality for Los Angeles’ KROQ and others while he worked as the co-host of “The Man Show,” a Comedy Central program that ran for about six seasons between 1999 and 2004. As part of the program, Kimmel and his co-host Adam Carolla, would indulge in hidden-camera pranks and feature women who would dress in skimpy outfits and jump on trampolines. The program aimed to satirize male behavior, but often seemed to celebrate it.
“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,” Kimmel said. “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. “
Kimmel said he believed “that I have evolved and matured over the last twenty-plus years, and I hope that is evident to anyone who watches my show.” He added: “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.”