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Racially charged Australian TV show skit offends Harry Connick, Jr.
Fri Oct 9, 8:14 pm ET
An incident involving actor/singer Harry Connick Jr. during his appearance as a judge on an Australian variety show is causing an international stir. The evening turned tense when an act performed in blackface, prompting Connick - himself once entangled in the sensitive issue - to give some tough talk on-air.
The show in question, “Hey, Hey It’s Saturday,” is a bit of a cultural institution in Australia, having run from 1971 to 1999; Connick was on the show to judge a reunion special. The controversial skit involved five doctors, aka “The Jackson Jive,” performing a parody of the Jackson Five. The group, host Daryl Somers told viewers, had performed the identical routine 20 years ago when they were medical students.
Here’s the “Today” show segment on the incident. (Viewers should be aware that footage from the show and blackface skit is featured).
After a visibly uncomfortable Connick gave the group a “0” for their performance during the judging portion, the show cut to commercial, when Connick made his alleged abrupt exit. Back on air Somers apologized for offending Connick, a New Orleans native whose musical schooling came from many of the city’s African-American jazz musicians: “I know that to your countrymen, that’s an insult to have a blackface routine like that on the show, so I do apologize to you.”
In response Connick said: “We’ve spent so much time trying to not make black people look like buffoons, that when we see something like that, we take it really to heart … If I knew that would be part of the show, I probably, I definitely wouldn’t have done it.”
His stance has garnered praise but the publicity’s also resurrected an ironic incident from Connick’s own past. The “Today” show says Connick portrayed an African-American preacher character when he appeared as a guest on the American sketch comedy show “MADtv.” (Ed. Note: Connick maintains that the character was not intended to be black. See below for his statement.) Some comments, as noted in this Movieline.com post, have turned heated, with Connick a target. “If you want a perfect example of hypocrisy, then look at this skit,” writes user Ranz Sunni of the YouTube clip of Connick’s sketch.
In a statement on the firestorm Thursday Connick spoke for the Australian performers and himself: “Those of you who have seen my shows or seen me in several comedic skits on TV know that I have absolutely no problem with comedic send-ups or making fun of myself or others … I do not believe that the performers intended any harm.”
Update: Connick posted this statement on his website regarding the “MADtv” sketch:
“There is a 1996 MadTV clip of a spoof featuring a black Baptist minister named Rev. LaMonte Nixon Fatback and a white southern evangelical preacher with a pompadour named Dr. Michael Kassick. Some people seem to be confused about which actor is playing which character. For the record, the actor playing Rev. LaMonte Nixon Fatback is Orlando Jones and the actor playing Dr. Michael Kassick is Harry Connick Jr.”