In a somber monologue Monday on "The Tonight Show," host Jimmy Fallon reflected on issues surrounding his blackface sketch on "Saturday Night Live" 20 years ago, for which he had apologized last week.
"I had to really examine myself … in the mirror this week," the 45-year-old comedian said after a backlash to his recently resurfaced "SNL" impersonation of black comic Chris Rock. "I was horrified," he went on. "Not of the fact that people were 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. I'm not a racist. I don't feel this way. And instead, what I kept getting advised was to just stay quiet and to not say anything."
He initially heeded, he said, but then tweeted an apology on May 26. "What that small gesture did for me was break my own silence," Fallon said, adding that "silence is the biggest crime that white guys like me and the rest of us are doing. … 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."
Coming amid ongoing days of nationwide protest over the killing of George Floyd by police, Fallon called racism "this incredibly sensitive and in-our-face subject that we need to deal with. … We can't say, 'Be the change' and just sit around tweeting, 'Be the change, be the change.' What is the change? … I don't know. So let's start talking with some people about this and try to get proactive and activated." He then introduced Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP and one of three guests, with CNN anchor Don Lemon and activist Jane Elliott, in place of the previously scheduled Lady Gaga and Little Big Town.
Johnson said he found the monologue "powerful … with a really authentic voice," and put Fallon's actions in context. "We are all born flawed, but flawed is part of the journey that we are on, so we can try to get to perfection. And if anyone can stand up and say, 'I haven't made a mistake,' run, because that person is clearly a liar." He welcomed Fallon's request to further educate himself "on being a better ally."