Tina Fey and the cast of “30 Rock” successfully pulled off their second live episode Thursday, celebrating — and skewering — live TV shows from the past.
In between surprise appearances by Paul McCartney and Fred Armisen, the cast and even more guest stars spoofed shows like “The Honeymooners,” “Laugh-In” and “NBC Nightly News.”
The most shocking moment — by far — was when “Mad Men’s” Jon Hamm appeared in a wig and blackface in sketch that overly satirizes racist television.
Kenneth, the NBC page, set up the show thusly: “NBC had the first two black characters on TV — sort of. For ‘Alfie and Abner,’ NBC hired one African American and one Caucasian because they thought two black people on the same show would make the audience nervous. A rule NBC still uses today.”
Tracy Morgan played an exasperated yet eloquent Alfie, who grew increasingly angry as Hamm’s Abner said things, like “Zip-a-dee-doo-doo!”
Alex Rabinowitz, who runs the blog Pop Culture Brain, said in a post he was surprised there weren’t many angry responses to Hamm’s blackface. Indeed, the majority of the responses to the moment are filled with praise.
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Danger Guerrero at Warming Glow wrote that, while he “certainly [does] not condone people donning blackface under most circumstances,” “the way it was played here — as a reference to exactly how racist television used to be — combined with the sheer likability and charisma of Jon Hamm, put this in a different category.”
Jenni Maier at Crushable agreed: “Black face is always a risky move to make on TV and it takes a true acting extraordinaire to pull it off. Obviously Jon Hamm made it work beautifully.” Dan Forcella at TV Fanatic wrote Hamm’s “blatantly racist character Abner was by far the single funniest moment from the episode.”
Jamil Smith, a segment producer at MSNBC’s “The Melissa Harris-Perry Show,” and Talking Points Memo reporter Ryan J. Reilly, however, both expressed their disapproval for the moment on Twitter. Smith tweeted, “And #30Rock has Jon Hamm in almost-kinda-yeah-actually-it’s-Blackface,” to which Reilly responded, “ ‘hey blackface will be okay if we’re meta about it,’ ’’ attributing that pretend quote to “no one.” Smith replied with the hashtag “#Fail.”
The Los Angeles Times compiled reactions from a handful of Twitter users who seem to be divided over the moment.
For something as controversial as blackface, it may surprise you that this isn’t the first time “30 Rock” has done it.
In a 2010 episode, Jenna Maroney donned blackface to look like football player Lynn Swann while her boyfriend dressed as Natalie Portman’s character in “Black Swan.” (Get it? Two black swans.)
Cultural critic and author Toure praised the moment in a essay for Mediaite.
“This works where so many other attempts at blackface have failed because Fey’s not using blackface as a simplistic visual way of turning a white person Black but as a complex tool that makes a multi-layered joke at the character’s expense,” he wrote. “Jenna is a dimwit and the audience knows that for her to think blackening up is ok adds to the perception that she’s simpleminded.”
What did you think of Hamm’s blackface on “30 Rock?” Tell us in the comments.