After a 20-year old clip of Saturday Night Live resurfaced on social media last week that featured Jimmy Fallon in blackface, the comedian has issued a formal apology on air and he claims that he is “not a racist.” Fallon opened up Monday’s episode of The Tonight Show by promising his fans “a different kind of show” to address the controversy.
The clip was from a 2000 episode of SNL that saw Fallon in blackface while impersonating his fellow comedian and SNL alum, Chris Rock. Fallon opened Monday’s episode by explaining that he wanted to address the situation after seeing what is going on in America at the moment – a subtle reference to the protests and riots taking place in numerous cities and towns.
He said that he would start with a self-examination and then expand out to the broader issue of racism, explaining that we all need to look at ourselves during such a turbulent time.
“I had to really examine myself in the mirror this week because a story came out about me on ‘SNL’ doing an impression of Chris Rock in blackface,” said Fallon. “And I was horrified. Not of people trying to ‘cancel’ me or cancel this show, which is scary enough. The thing that haunted me the most was, how do I say I love this person?”
Fallon explained that he respects Rock more than he respects most humans, and he is “not a racist” and he doesn’t feel this way. He said that he kept getting advised to stay quiet and not say anything at all about the controversy, but he says he was getting that advice because everyone is afraid.
At first, Fallon took the advice while thinking to himself that if he said something, he would do something wrong and get himself into more trouble. He ended up issuing a brief statement on Twitter about his “terrible decision” with the trending hashtag #whyjimmyfallonisover, but after thinking about the issue a little more he realized that was not enough.
In 2000, while on SNL, I made a terrible decision to do an impersonation of Chris Rock while in blackface. There is no excuse for this.
I am very sorry for making this unquestionably offensive decision and thank all of you for holding me accountable.
— jimmy fallon (@jimmyfallon) May 26, 2020
“I realized that I can’t not say I’m horrified and I’m sorry and I’m embarrassed,” Fallon said. “I realized that the silence is the biggest crime that white guys like me and the rest of us are doing, staying silent. We need to say something. We need to keep saying something. And we need to stop saying ‘That’s not OK’ more than just one day on Twitter.”
Jimmy Fallon encouraged his fans to do more than just sit around and write “be the change” on social media. Instead, we all have to educate ourselves on how to change and start being proactive.
To do his part, Fallon is bringing experts on his show to have a discussion about what people can do to bring change. His first guest was Derrick Johnson, the president and CEO of the NAACP, who called Fallon’s opening monologue “powerful” and noted the courage it took for Fallon to get completely honest and address the situation head on.