Jimmy Kimmel Apologizes for Blackface Impression of NBA Star Karl Malone

The late night host also says waiting to say something about the impersonation "was a mistake."
Pawel Kaminski/Walt Disney Television

Jimmy Kimmel is apologizing for a blackface impression he did of NBA star Karl Malone in the mid- and late 1990s.

The ABC late night host, who's currently taking a summer break from Jimmy Kimmel Live!, issued the statement Tuesday. It comes amid a continued reckoning in the industry over racist depictions of Black people and other people of color in the past, ranging from Gone With the Wind being temporarily removed from HBO Max to Hulu pulling down four episodes of 30 Rock that featured blackface scenes.

"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," Kimmel said. "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."

Kimmel began doing his impression of Malone, then a player with the Utah Jazz, in the mid-'90s, and continued it on TV, where he wore blackface makeup and a bald cap. A sketch from Comedy Central's The Man Show featuring the impression remains on YouTube.

Kimmel's apology follows fellow late night host Jimmy Fallon apologized for doing a blackface sketch on Saturday Night Live in 2000. Netflix has also pulled sketch series Little Britain over its use of blackface, and HBO Max temporarily shelved Gone With the Wind until it can add a disclaimer about the 1939 movie's depiction of Black characters and slavery.

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. 

Sincerely,

Jimmy Kimmel