Jimmy Fallon returned to The Tonight Show on Monday after a week off. He was expected to address the Memorial Day death of George Floyd and the massive protests that it triggered. But Fallon started off his first original episode in 11 days with a personal message before weighing in on the new wound in the nation’s race relations opened by Floyd’s death at the hands of a cop.
Promising a “different kind of show,” Fallon right off the bat addressed a controversy that erupted online around the time of Floyd’s death and involved a resurfaced 2000 Saturday Night Live skit featuring then-cast member Fallon appearing in blackface to impersonate SNL alum Chris Rock.
“I had to 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,” he said on The Tonight Show. “And I was horrified. Not of people trying to ‘cancel’ me or cancel this show, which is scary enough. 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.”
Last Tuesday, May 26, hours after the controversy sent the hashtag #jimmyfallonisoverparty trending, Fallon issued a brief statement on Twitter, apologizing for making a “terrible” and “unquestionably offensive” decision.
Tonight, Fallon revealed that he had been advised to “just stay quiet and not say anything” and initially he took that advice but eventually decided to release the statement.
Now, in light of Floyd’s death and the wave of protests for racial justice, Fallon felt that the brief statement was not enough.
“I realized that I can’t not say I’m horrified and I’m sorry and I’m embarrassed,” Fallon said. “I realized that the silence is the biggest crime that white guys like me and the rest of us are doing, staying silent. We need to say something. We need to keep saying something. And we need to stop saying ‘that’s not OK’ more than just one day on Twitter.”
Segueing to the aftermath of Floyd’s death, Fallon said, “We cannot try to bury this again. It’s not going to get buried. It’s not going away” before calling for real action because “You can’t just hope everyone loves each other. We can’t say ‘be the change’ and just sit around tweeting ‘be the change, be the change.’”
Instead of previously announced Lady Gaga, Fallon’s first guest was NAACP President Derrick Johnson, who said of Fallon’s monologue, ‘”That was powerful, but most importantly, it’s about courage.'” The two spoke about ways Fallon could be “a better ally” to the Black community.
Fallon’s second guest CNN host Don Lemon, a leading voice in the coverage of the George Floyd protests, also gave the late-night host thumbs-up.
“That’s exactly what we all need to do is examine ourselves,” Lemon said. “That was really honest and very brave of you and I appreciate you having the depth really to do what you did in that opening monologue.”
Watch a video of Fallon’s monologue above.