Late-night comedian Conan O’Brien sought to defuse a flap over a recent segment poking fun at the French-Canadian province of Quebec by issuing a self-deprecating “apology” on Tuesday in French.
“People of Quebec, I’m sorry,” the host of NBC’s “Late Night” show said in English, as a translator recited in French, with English subtitles, “People of Quebec, I’m an albino jackass.”
“We meant no harm with our comedy piece the other night,” O’Brien continued, “translated” into French as: “The other night, I wet the bed like a little girl.”
“I was a stranger in a strange land and I was very insensitive,” he went on, with the subtitle: “I have a small penis.”
The tongue-in-cheek mea culpa was delivered by O’Brien after his usual monologue during the taping of Tuesday night’s show in New York.
O’Brien sparked a burst of outrage from the Canadian government last Thursday with a segment in which a rubber hand-puppet known as Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, a recurring character on the show, said to a Quebecer: “You’re French, you’re obnoxious and you no speekay English.” The ribald puppet told another: “I can smell your crotch from here.”
The controversial segment came during O’Brien’s highly publicized road trip last week for a series of shows taped in and around Toronto to help boost that city’s profile in the wake of last year’s deadly SARS outbreak.
But members of the federal government in Ottawa said O’Brien’s jokes about Quebec, a province which has had separatist governments for much of the last 20 years and is a delicate political topic in Canada, went too far.
Alexa McDonough, a legislator for the left-leaning New Democratic Party, described the program as “racist filth” and ”utterly vile.” She demanded the government seek the return of the C$1 million ($760,000) subsidy paid by Ontario, the province of which Toronto is the capital, to General Electric Co.’s NBC network to help bring O’Brien’s show to Canada.