Comedian Omid Djalili defends 'whiting up' and criticises 'blackface'

Comedian Omid Djalili defends performers whiting up because the ‘characters are empowered’ but says blacking up is offensive for its ‘lazy and oversexualised’ image after Little Britain was pulled from streaming services over its use of blackface

  • Omid Djalili has defended his use of ‘whiting up’ in his comedy series
  • He said ‘blackface’ was wrong because it portrays black people negatively
  • But he said ‘these white characters are an empowered group so it’s actually OK’  

Omid Djalili has defended ‘whiting up’ on his TV series due to white people being ‘an empowered group’ – but said the use of blackface in comedy is unacceptable. 

The comedian appeared on Good Morning Britain today where he spoke to hosts Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid about the removal of comedy sketch show Little Britain from BBC iPlayer and Britbox.

The series, which features David Walliams and Matt Lucas, became the target of a furious backlash amid worldwide Black Lives Matter protests recently, due to its portrayal of minority characters. 

Mr Djalili told GMB viewers he had ’17 apologies ready to go’ if his own comedy show, which was on BBC One from 2007 to 2009, goes on Britbox and BBC iPlayer. 

He added: ‘I did white up – three times I played women. I played a white, middle class, multitasking mum from Richmond.

‘There’s me as Liz Truss, doing apostrophes for Africa, which was about white people being slightly patronising towards Africans.

Little Britain, which features David Walliams and Matt Lucas, became the target of a furious backlash amid worldwide Black Lives Matter protests recently

Omid Djalili appeared on Good Morning Britain today where he spoke to hosts Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid about the removal of comedy sketch show Little Britain from BBC iPlayer and Britbox

League of Gentlemen

Papa Lazarou features in League of Gentlemen, which is still available to watch on Neflix and iPlayer

Steve Pemberton and Mark Gattis’ BBC comedy features a character called Papa Lazarou – a blacked-up ringmaster who calls everybody Dave. He collects spouses by forcing his way into women’s homes posing as a humble peg-seller, then talks gibberish at them until they hand over their wedding rings, at which point he says: ‘You’re my wife now!’ League of Gentlemen is still available to watch on both Netflix and BBC iPlayer. 

Bo’ Selecta

Leigh Francis said he was ‘deeply sorry’ for the way he impersonated stars such as Trisha Goddard

Comedian Leigh Francis tearfully apologised for impersonating black stars such as Craig David, Trisha Goddard and Michael Jackson on his programme. Talk show host Trisha said it ’emboldoned a lot of casual racism’ while popstar David insists it ruined his life. Bo’ Selecta is no longer on All 4 but remains on Prime Video.

The Simpsons 

Apu has come under fire for perpetuating racial stereotypes 

Hank Azaria announced earlier this year he will no longer voice Indian immigrant and Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu on The Simpsons after 30 years. The South Asian character has come under fire for perpetuating racial stereotypes. The Simpsons is broadcast regularly on Channel 4 and can be streamed on Disney+.

Ruddy Hell! It’s Harry and Paul 

Nelson Mandela was parodied in Harry and Paul’s sketch show

Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse faced criticism in their sketch series for their depiction of Nelson Mandela appearing on adverts selling various narcotics and promoting shoplifting.

Rising Damp 

The character of Rupert Rigsby has also been criticised, but creator Eric Chappell defended him by saying he ‘was not a racist or a bigot, but he was prejudiced and suspicious of strangers’. There were also jokes about Leonard Rossiter’s character having a black medical student as a tenant. Rising Damp is still available to watch via Prime and ITV Hub. 

Facejacker

The prank call show often featured accents

Channel 4’s show about prank calling often featured accents from ethnic minorities. Star Kayvan Novak previously said: ‘There’s a weird thing going on at the moment where the more extreme politics and people’s opinions get, the more it seems that comedy on TV is all about playing safe and not offending anyone, when it needs to hold up a mirror and go ‘this is what’s going on now’.’

Only Fools and Horses

Even perhaps Britain’s most beloved sitcom of all time has had to edit old episodes to remove politically incorrect dialogue, such as an episode where Del told a child to ‘pop down to the P**i shop’ – a line no longer broadcast in repeats.

The Two Ronnies

Another one of the nation’s all-time favourites. Many have felt uncomfortable about a sketch titled ‘The Sheikh in the Grocery Store’, which features Ronnie Corbett wearing dark makeup and an Arabic keffiyeh, mispronouncing the names of items on his shopping list. The Archway School in Gloucestershire had to apologise for showing the clip to parents after complaints were made. 

Fantasy Football League

David Baddiel as Jason Lee

Ex-Nottingham Forest star Jason Lee, who was often a target of ridicule on the 90s show, said David Baddiel’s depiction of him was ‘a form of bullying’.

The Mighty Boosh

Noel Fielding as ‘The Spirit of Jazz’

 Noel Fielding portrays ‘The Spirit of Jazz’ – a black, dreadlocked character in the BBC series, sparking much discussion over racism. Fielding has also been in hot water after a picture emerged of him painted black while dressed as tennis star Bjorn Borg.

‘The difference there is, these white characters are an empowered group so it’s actually OK to make a comment on them.’

Speaking about ‘blackface’, he continued: ‘I think the thing we didn’t like about minstrels is that they were made fun of for being lazy, oversexualised, they were put in a particular bracket.’

Mr Djalili said Mr Walliams and Mr Lucas were two of his closest friends, and three years ago Mr Lucas said he would not do a sketch like that again.  

‘It’s really about your intention,’ Mr Djalili said. ‘It is about us moving towards maturity – as Michelle Obama said, we are all in the process of becoming.’

Little Britain was been removed from Netflix, BBC iPlayer and BritBox amid concerns that the use of blackface characters on the series is no longer acceptable.

In an apparent reaction to the Black Lives Matter protests, Netflix pulled the Matt Lucas, 46, and David Walliams, 48, series on Friday, along with the pair’s other comedy Come Fly With Me.

Then this week the BBC and BritBox both confirmed they had also decided to remove Little Britain saying ‘times have changed’ since the show first aired.

The shows include scenes where the comedians portray characters from different ethnic backgrounds with the use of make-up. 

Similarly, Bo’ Selecta, which impersonated black stars such as Craig David, Trisha Goddard and Michael Jackson has been removed from All 4 after creator Leigh Francis recently issued a tearful apology. It is, however, still available on Prime Video.

It suggests an uncertain future for other popular comedy series which feature similar techniques, though many are still available to watch on streaming sites. 

The League of Gentlemen, which features a blackface character, is still on BBC iPlayer, and is not set to be imminently taken off.

When asked if more shows would be removed, a BBC spokesman had told MailOnline: ‘The change only affects Little Britain.’ 

Friday’s decision by Netflix to remove Lucas and Walliams’ two series sparked anger from subscribers to the service, who were annoyed when they discovered the two shows had been dropped.

Journalist and former MEP Daniel Hannan was among those to speak out.

He wrote: ‘There is an unbearable smugness in rushing to condemn Ali G, Bo’ Selecta or other shows that were fine until the day before yesterday. As if to say, ”You all thought this was fine, but look – I’m more sensitive than you”. Hmmm. Maybe you’re just more priggish.’ 

The move is likely to lead to calls for more shows that may be seen as racist to be removed.  

Those angered by the move said they were ‘fuming’ and ‘gutted’ at the decision. 

Some viewers complained they were in the middle of watching the series. 

One viewer said people should be able to make their ‘own choices’.

But others have expressed growing unease about watching sketches which featured the comedians wearing make up to portray different races, amid claims it was offensive. 

One viewer said they were ‘shocked’ that it had been available. 

In Little Britain, David Walliams wore make up to play health-spa guest Desiree DeVere. In Come Fly With Me, he played ‘passenger liaison officer’ Moses Beacon and airline boss Omar Baba, while Lucas’ characters included coffee shop worker Precious Little.

The BBC’s iPlayer was airing the first series of Little Britain which included a scene where the pair were made-up to look like blackface entertainers. But has now taken the series down.

A spokesman for the BBC said: ‘There’s a lot of historical programming available on BBC iPlayer, which we regularly review. Times have changed since Little Britain first aired so it is not currently available on BBC iPlayer.’ 

BritBox, the streaming service from ITV and the BBC, which had been showing three series of Little Britain, has now also removed the show.

It said: ‘Times have changed since Little Britain first aired, so it is not currently available on BritBox. Come Fly With Me has not been available on the service for six months.’

There had been a mixed reaction at the weekend to Netflix’s move.

One wrote on Twitter: ‘Absolutely furious that Little Britain and Come Fly With Me have been taken off Netflix.’

Another said: ‘Little Britain and Come Fly With Me have both been removed from Netflix….so now I can’t watch these shows because you don’t like it?

‘I want to live in a free country and make my own choices. Not an oppressive regime where I’m told what I can and can’t watch.’

But another viewer said on Friday: ‘I’m guilty for watching Little Britain and Come Fly With Me and looking past the black face but we all must face up and accept this was unacceptable and it’s still shown on Netflix.’

Another person speaking at the end of last week told Netflix: ‘Take Little Britain down. 

‘Please do not endorse a show which perpetuates stereotypes of minority groups and makes a laughing stock of people who have to fight for basic equality within life.’

This comes after comedian Leigh Francis tearfully apologised for impersonating black stars on his show Bo’ Selecta. 

He said he had been thinking about his Channel 4 show and had not realised at the time how offensive it was. 

A Channel 4 spokeswoman said: ‘We support Leigh in his decision to reflect on Bo Selecta in light of recent events and we’ve agreed with him to remove the show from the All 4 archive.’ 

Matt Lucas has previously said if he could go back and remake the previous series of Little Britain he would not play black characters.

In 2017 he told Big Issue: ‘If I could go back and do Little Britain again, I wouldn’t make those jokes about transvestites. I wouldn’t play black characters.

‘Basically, I wouldn’t make that show now. It would upset people. We made a more cruel kind of comedy than I’d do now.’

He added there had not been ‘bad intent there’ and they had simply been showing off about ‘what a diverse bunch of people we could play.’

In the interview Lucas said it was ‘lazy’ for white people to ‘get a laugh just by playing black characters’. 

David Walliams also said that the show would definitely make a comeback but acknowledged he would change things. 

He said: ‘I would say there will definitely be some more Little Britain coming. I can’t say when exactly but at the right time and place. It was fun coming back for radio because that’s where we started.’

He added that he would ‘definitely do it differently’ in today’s cultural landscape. 

The decision comes as Netflix was earlier this year said to have been in discussions with Lucas and Walliams about making a new series of Little Britain for the streaming giant, in a lucrative deal.

Huge demonstrations, many organised by the Black Lives Matter Group, have helped spark renewed debate on racism in recent weeks.

The protests intensified after George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died after police officer Derek Chauvin put his knee on his neck in Minneapolis on May 25 for nine minutes.  

Stereotypes: Matt Lucas played coffee shop worker Precious Little in Come Fly With Me 

Change of heart: The show’s creators David Walliams and Matt Lucas said in 2017 they would ‘definitely do [the show] differently’ in today’s cultural landscape (pictured in 2008)

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