Leslie Jones

Submitted by on Sep 18, 2015

Critics Find Little Humor In ‘SNL’ Writer’s Jokes About Slavery

Leslie Jones played an “image expert” on last weekend’s SNL. NBC hide caption

itoggle caption NBC

Almost 21 years ago, Whoopi Goldberg was honored at the New York Friars’ Club. More than 3,000 people crowded into the New York Hilton to hear Goldberg roasted by her celebrity friends.

The Friars’ is a show business charity, and their roasts are famous. Good taste and delicacy are usually checked in the cloak room, and after a series of predictably ribald remarks from his colleagues the honoree gets to lob back an in-kind response. Unlike some of the celebrity roasts we’ve see in this decade, the Friars roasts are not even recorded, let alone televised at a later date. (Just as well — saves a lot of bleeps and lawyers’ fees. )

The opening monologue for Goldberg’s roast was given by actor Ted Danson, her then-lover, who walked out on stage. in blackface. Or to be more technically correct, deep brown face. (And whitened lips and a top hat. Yep.) He proceeded to riff on how their interracial relationship had been criticized, at one point, referring to any children they might consider having as diarrhea-colored babies.The monologue was so offensive, several guests, including talk show host Montel Williams and former Mayor David Dinkins, walked out. The late film critic Roger Ebert wrote about the evening in his blog, Roger Ebert’s Journal, calling Danson’s performance “the worst train wreck since The Fugutive.”

As might be imagined, the uproar was considerable. Kind of like the outrage in the wake of writer Leslie Jones’ maiden on-camera appearance on Saturday Night Live ‘s “Weekend Update.” Jones didn’t come out in blackface, but she did bug her eyes, roll her neck and make jokes about how she would have been a hot prospect in antebellum life:

“Massa woulda hooked me up with the best brother on the plantation,”she told uncertain-looking co-anchor Colin Jost.”And every nine months, I’d be popping out a superbaby: Shaq, Kobe. LeBron!”

Yep. Jones and Goldberg had the same kind of mission — to get discomfort with race out in the open — and many of their critics, then and now, their missions fell flat. In Danson’s case, his audience just wasn’t comfortable watching a white guy in black face joke about race. Even if he did have a black girlfriend. In Jones,’ many television viewers, especially black ones, just weren’t ready to watch a black woman joke about black historical trauma in front of a predominately white audience.

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