Jimmy Fallon opened Monday’s episode of “The Tonight Show” by issuing an apology for wearing blackface in a sketch on “Saturday Night Live” 20 years ago.
In a monologue that ran for almost 4 minutes and also alluded to the racial unrest that has come to the forefront in the wake of George Floyd’s death, the comedian remained somber while addressing his actions.
“Welcome to ‘The Tonight Show.’ Seeing what is going on in our country, I'm not going to have a normal show tonight. I'm going to have a different kind of show," he began.
"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. And I had to really examine myself — 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."
Fallon went on to explain his reaction.
“I was horrified. Not of the fact that people trying to ‘cancel’ me or cancel this show, which is scary enough, but the thing that haunted me the most was, how do I say I love this person? I respect this guy more than I respect most humans,” Fallon said of Rock. “I’m not a racist. I don’t feel this way.”
Fallon said he was advised to remain quiet and “to not say anything” because “we’re all afraid.” After following that advice initially out of concern he would only make matters worse, he said he decided he had to speak out.
"I thought about it. And I realized that I can't not say I'm horrified. And I'm sorry. And I'm embarrassed,” he said. “And what that small gesture did for me was break my own silence. And what then I started to do was talk to some experts, some of which are here tonight, and this week, and I realized that the silence is the biggest crime that white guys like me and the rest of us are doing. Staying silent."
Last week, Fallon addressed the controversy with an apology on Twitter. But he felt he had to do more.
“We need to say something," he said on Monday's show. "We need to keep saying something. And we need to stop saying that’s not OK more than just one day on Twitter. I realized I needed to get educated about how to stop the silence and the fear of saying the wrong thing by not being silent and stepping out and stepping up. But I need to be, we all need to be talking about this.”
“We cannot try to bury this again,” he said about the racial unrest in the country. “It’s not going to get buried. It’s not going away. You can’t just hope that everyone loves each other. We can’t say, ‘Be the change,’ and just sit around tweeting, ‘Be the change, be the change.’
“This is such a long root in the ground. It is so long and deep, but we gotta get in there and we have to dig it up,” he added.
Fallon's first guest on Monday's show, NAACP President Derrick Johnson, remarked on Fallon's opening statements. “That was powerful, but most importantly, that’s about courage,” he said.
Fallon’s second guest, CNN’s Don Lemon, echoed that sentiment.
“That was really honest and very brave of you, and I appreciate you having the depth really to do what you did in that open.”