By Frank James
Harry Connick Jr. further added to his image as a good-guy celebrity by smacking down a group of performers who recently appeared on an Australian variety show in black
It happened during the talent segment of the show Hey, Hey, It's Saturday. Connick was serving as one of three judges when six men appeared on stage as the "Jackson Jive," a parody of the late pop star Michael Jackson and his performing brothers.
The men wore afro wigs and blackface, except for the lead singer who, pretending to be the King of Pop, wore clown-like white makeup. After the men performed, the judges were asked for their scores. Connick gave them a fat zero.
Connick, looking like he had just eaten some bad gumbo, said:
"Man, if they turned up looking like that in the United States... it would be 'hey, hey, there's no more show.' "
By contrast, another judge, an Australian woman named Jackie, gave them a seven. She said:
"I thought you were very cute. Terrific choreography. Great singing. Fabulous."
To which I say, borrowing a line from Rep. Barney Frank: on which planet does she spend most of her time?
At the end of the show, host Daryl Somers apologized to Connick:
"I know that to your countrymen, that's an insult to have a blackface routine like that on the show, so I do apologize to you,"
To which Connick said:
"I just want to say on behalf of my country, I know it was done humorously, but we've spent so much time trying to not make black people look like buffoons, that when we see something like that we take it really to heart. And I know it was in good fun and the last thing I want to do is take this show to kind of a down level. Because you know how much I love this show and this country. But I feel like I'm at home here and if I knew that was going to be part of the show I probably, I definitely wouldn't have done it. Thank you for the opportunity, I've got to give it up because I told him at the break and he said 'Man, you need to speak as an American, not as a white American or a black American but as an American I need to say that."
There's been a lot of discussion of this on the Internet with some people trying to make this about how racist white Australians are and with some Australians fighting back against those accusations by charging Connick with hypocrisy for an appearance on MadTV in which, they say, he gave a stereotypical portrayal of a black preacher.
But it's not that simple. Many Australians were reportedly offended by the blackface routine. What's more, you can clearly hear some in the audience boo after the Jackson Jive were done.
As if this story isn't weird enough, the men in blackface are all well-respected physicians who, as medical students 20 years ago, appeared on the same show, doing the same routine. They actually won the talent show.
Dr. Anand Deva, the Michael Jackson impersonator leading the group, apologized Thursday.
"Clearly, all of us want to apologise," he told Fairfax Radio Network.
"I mean we have offended some people no doubt, particularly Harry Connick Jr. So I want to say on behalf of all of us that this was really not intended ... [to be] anything to do with racism at all."
Dr Deva further defended the skit by saying the 'Jackson Jive' group - all of whom are doctors - were from multicultural backgrounds and were huge fans of the late King of Pop.
"I am an Indian ... five of the six of us are from multicultural backgrounds and to be called a racist ... I don't think I have ever been called that ever in my life before," he said.
"Anyone who knows us as a group - we are intelligent people, we are all from different racial backgrounds so I am really truly surprised."