The controversy that has threatened to derail Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s political career erupted Friday and, since then, has featured just about everything: Northam apologizing for appearing in a yearbook photo that showed a person in blackface alongside someone wearing a KKK robe. Northam walking back his original apology, saying it wasn’t him in the photo after all. An obstinate refusal to step down — despite bipartisan pleas for the Democrat to do so — for fear he be deemed “a racist for life.”
The voice of late-night comedians, however, was strangely absent in a controversy that seemed made for talk-show laughs. Because of the timing, late-night hosts had to wait until after the weekend before they could air their thoughts about the Northam hubbub.
And, boy, did they. On Monday, the late-night shows returned, and almost everyone seemed eager to pounce first on Northam’s surreal Saturday news conference, in which the governor insisted it couldn’t have been him in the blackface photo — because, you see, he had participated in another blackface incident that he remembered more vividly.
“Yo, this guy’s a legend. I’m sorry,” “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah said, trying to stifle his laughter. “Although it does make it more believable that it wasn’t him in the photo, because who would defend themselves by admitting to a different crime? ‘Your honor, I couldn’t be the Boston Strangler. Because I’m the Philadelphia Strangler! Go, Eagles! Ahh!’ ”
In his skewering of Northam, Noah relied heavily on unedited footage from the news conference, including one clip in which the governor explained he had used only a little bit of shoe polish on his face when he dressed up as Michael Jackson for a dance competition.
“The reason I used a very little bit is because, I don’t know if anybody’s ever tried that, but you cannot get shoe polish off,” Northam explained.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. I’m sorry. How did he already know it’s hard to get shoe polish off your face?” Noah said. “Because at first it sounded like he made a mistake. Now it sounds like he’s a blackface connoisseur.”
And after Northam seemed to seriously entertain a reporter’s question about whether he could still do the moonwalk — prompting Northam’s wife to gently dissuade him from doing so under such “inappropriate circumstances” — Noah doubled over with laughter.
“Yo, wait, wait!” Noah said, slapping his desk. “Hold up, hold up, hold up. … I can’t believe this guy was actually going to do the moonwalk in the middle of his blackface apology! That is the wrong time for dance moves, okay? That would be like if Bill Clinton said ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman’ [and then dabbed].”
As a bonus, “Daily Show” correspondent Jaboukie Young-White taped a segment demonstrating how to moonwalk “with no racism involved!”
“And remember,” Young-White explained as he broke down the dance steps, “you’re doing all this with no shoe polish on your face.”
On CBS’s “The Late Show,” host Stephen Colbert jokingly congratulated Northam for taking the title of “most embarrassing elected official” away from President Trump for one day.
Then, as a quick aside, Colbert took issue with the existence of medical school yearbooks.
“Why would they have yearbooks? Don’t you have more important things to be working on, like memorizing chemical bonds or how many livers there are?” Colbert implored. “You don’t need a yearbook. You’re doctors! ‘Most likely to succeed’ should be all of you, because if you fail, we die!”
Colbert also called Northam out for having a “change of heart — and a change of memory.”
“I am very sorry for what I did,” Colbert said, imitating Northam in a monotone. “Oh, you still want me to resign? I mean I did not do it.”
He then, too, cut straight to Northam’s news-conference admission that he had in the past worn blackface for a Michael Jackson dance competition. When the cameras cut back to Colbert, the comedian was pacing back and forth on the set of his show.
“I will grant you: The moonwalk is not an easy dance,” Colbert said finally. “But you might want to learn to moonwalk away right now. Maybe moonrun out of the presser.”
On NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” Meyers noted Northam had never identified whom in the original yearbook photo he might be — the person in blackface or the person wearing a KKK robe.
“That’s a real lose-lose. That’s like being asked whether you’re Erik or Lyle Menendez,” Meyers said, referring to California siblings convicted of killing their parents. “There’s no good option here. Even the curtain in the background of that photo had to hold a press conference to apologize.”
And Meyers completed the trinity of late-night hosts who appeared gleefully aghast that Northam had paused after being asked whether he could still moonwalk.
“He actually thought about doing it! That is the face of a man looking to see if he has room to moonwalk!” Meyers exclaimed. “I can’t believe anyone has to say this, but you can’t moonwalk your way out of this one.”
Notably, neither Jimmy Kimmel nor Jimmy Fallon made any mention of Northam in their shows Monday. Both comedians have worn blackface in the past.