Jimmy Fallon’s first “Tonight Show” monologue in 11 days took a long, hard look in the mirror.
The late-night host drew outrage last week after a 2000 “Saturday Night Live” sketch resurfaced, in which Fallon wore blackface makeup to impersonate co-star Chris Rock. The controversial clip went viral on Memorial Day — the same day African-American George Floyd died in Minnesota police custody after a white officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes. That was also around the time that a white former Franklin Templeton employee was caught on video calling the police on a bird watcher who had asked her to leash her dog, and warning him that she was going to tell the officers that an African-American man was threatening her life.
Fallon’s blackface sketch went viral along with those high-profile racial injustices, and by Tuesday the hashtag #JimmyFallonIsOverParty was trending on Twitter /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR +2.03% , along with calls on the Comcast-owned /zigman2/quotes/209472081/composite CMCSA -0.70% network NBC to fire the host and cancel the long-running show.
While Fallon tweeted an apology last Tuesday, saying “there is no excuse for this” and I am very sorry for making this unquestionably offensive decision,” he was otherwise quiet while taking the week off for Memorial Day.
He broke that silence with his return to the air on Monday night, opening his remote show by telling viewers, “Seeing what is going on in our country, I’m not going to have a normal show tonight. … I’m going to start this personally, and then expand out, because that’s where we all need to start: with ourselves, and looking at ourselves in the mirror.”
Fallon revealed he was “horrified” upon re-examining his Rock impression while wearing blackface makeup. “Not [horrified] 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?” he said, referring to Rock. “I respect this guy more than I respect most humans.”
He then revealed that he had been advised to “just stay quiet and not say anything” at first, and admitted he had been afraid of saying the “wrong” thing or making the situation worse — eventually deciding to reject that advice:
‘I realized that I can’t not say I’m horrified and I’m sorry and I’m embarrassed. I realized that the silence is the biggest crime that white guys like me and the rest of us are doing — staying silent.’
His first guest, NAACP President Derrick Johnson, applauded Fallon’s monologue. “That was powerful, but, most importantly, it’s about courage,” Johnson said. “In this time of many people searching for answers, and just the display of anger and hopelessness and wandering, more people need to speak ... with a really authentic voice.”
He and Fallon also discussed ways that the talk-show host and other people outside of the African-American community can be better allies, and take responsibility for both their conscious and unconscious actions.
“Racism is a learned behavior for us,” Johnson said. “To unlearn a behavior, we have to be honest about it, create spaces where we can talk about it, but, most importantly, be the example we want to see.” He also pushed for people to keep this dialogue open, rather than having “a quick-fix outpouring, and then they go back to their corner.”
Fallon also vowed to keep in touch with Johnson to check on his progress, and shared the link for the NAACP for viewers who want to fight racism.
Watch Fallon’s monologue here:
This mea culpa aired amid another night of civil unrest across the country in the wake of Floyd’s death last week. More than 5,600 people nationwide have been arrested over the past week for such offenses as stealing, blocking highways and breaking curfew.
On Monday, President Donald Trump threatened to mobilize the U.S. military to keep the peace across the nation. His probable Democratic presidential opponent, Joe Biden, called Floyd’s death “a wake-up call” on Tuesday morning, and blasted the president for being “more interested in serving the passions of his base than the needs of the people in his care.”
Meanwhile, Floyd’s brother made an emotional plea for protestors to “do this peacefully, please,” while standing in the Minneapolis street where his brother was pinned to the pavement with an officer’s knee on his neck.