Former Hey Hey It’s Saturday host Daryl Somers has issued an apology to Kamahl after the Malaysian-born singer opened up about the “humiliation” he endured on the once-beloved variety show.
In the statement, Somers says he “deeply regret(s) any hurt felt” by Kamahl and that he “never set out to offend anybody.”
Unearthed skits from the show — including one in which Kamahl was hit in the face with white powder and told “you’re a real white man” afterwards — have been circulating online in recent days, with Kamahl giving several interviews commenting on the racist jokes he was subjected to on the show.
“They wouldn’t hit John Farnham or Jimmy Barnes in the face with a powder puff,” he told Studio 10 on Tuesday, adding it “hurt” to be humiliated on live national television.
Responding to the swirling uproar in a statement to 3AW, Somers – who is set to return as host on Channel 7’s Dancing with the Stars: All Stars – apologised to Kamahl and others who found the show’s content “offensive”.
“I want to make it very clear that I and all members of the Hey Hey team do not condone racism in any form,” Somers said.
“I have always considered Kamahl a friend and supporter of the show, so I deeply regret any hurt felt by him as a result of anything that took place on the programme in the past.”
He went on to say he supports diversity in the entertainment industry, claiming the show “never set out to offend anybody but always strived to provide family entertainment”.
He added that he is “proud” of the long-running show’s contribution to Australian television, but added that “in the context of modern society” the material was “plainly inappropriate” and “would not go to air today”.
The “long overdue” apology — which begins with Somers asserting that he is “currently in the middle of recording Dancing With The Stars: All Stars” — has been slammed by some social media users.
“Just say sorry. No need to contextualise. It was vile then and remains so now,” one said.
“The Daryl Somers “apology” to Kamahl … the good old “these things were ‘appropriate’ in the past & we are so much more evolved now” defence. Yeah nup; it was racist back then & it’s still racist now,” another wrote.
“At no point in Daryl Somers’ ‘apology’ did he apologise. He does fit in a hell of a lot of flexing though,” one more quipped.
Another chimed in: “I see this more as a PR-written “apology” than a Daryl Somers’ apology but anyway, let’s move on.”
Kamahl, however, has accepted the apology, writing: “To whom it may concern, “This is to say that I, Kandiah Kamalesvaran, AKA Kamahl, accept and acknowledge the apology from friend Daryl Somers, unreservedly”.
Daryl Somers’ comments about ‘cancel culture’
Somers sparked the controversy last week when he said it was a “shame” television shows can’t “get away with half the stuff you could on Hey Hey.”
“You probably could not get away with half the stuff you could on Hey Hey now because of the political correctness and the cancel culture,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
“It is a shame because showbiz does not get much of a chance.”
He went on to say he’s slightly dismayed with the shift in public opinion, but accepts the world is changing.
“A lot of comics can’t work much because what would have been just tongue-in-cheek previously now can easily get them into trouble.
“I can’t say I am enamoured with it, but it is a changing world in which we live and you just have to work around things,” he said.
His comments prompted a series of clips resurfacing on Twitter depicting Somers and off-screen partner John Blackman’s behaviour on Hey Hey It’s Saturday, particularly to Kamahl, who was once hit in the face with white powder during a performance on the show. “You’re a real white man, Kamahl,” Blackman told him after the prank.
“Daryl, it’s lighting here – could you ask Kamahl to smile so we can see him?” Blackman had asked via voiceover before the performance.
During the same segment, a drawing from the show’s resident cartoonist appeared on screen, showing Kamahl in a boiling pot of water with a bone through his nose. “Why … why they do this to me?” Blackman said, impersonating the singer’s accent.
Kamahl recalls ‘humiliating’ segments
Responding to Somers’ comments and the social media storm they ignited, Kamahl told The Guardian there were “a number of instances where I felt humiliated”.
“Friends of mine in America saw that and to this day they can’t believe that somebody would treat an artist with that amount of disrespect,” Kamahl explained of the powder puff clip.
Speaking on Studio 10 on Tuesday morning, the 86-year-old singer admitted it “hurt” being subjected to racist jokes on the variety show, pointing out that the same gags wouldn’t have been played out on white performers.
“They wouldn’t hit John Farnham or Jimmy Barnes in the face with a powder puff,” he said.
He continued: “It hurt, of course it hurt. It’s terrible to be humiliated. I know they wouldn’t hit John Farnham or Jimmy Barnes in the face with a powder puff, but the root of it was I was too successful for them … If I was a nobody, they wouldn’t have done anything.”
Speaking to The Project last night, he revealed he couldn’t even bring himself to watch the full episode when it aired in 1988: “I didn’t see all of it because I was disgusted by it,” he told the panel.
John Blackman’s response to the saga
Blackman, 73, who voiced the faceless puppet Dickie Knee, first hit back at Kamahl’s admission he felt “humiliated” by the numerous racist skits on the variety show over the weekend, saying he would have “desisted” had Kamahl spoken up at the time.
Posting to Facebook, Blackman said that while he “cringes” looking back at some of the episodes, Kamahl should have let it go by now.
“Goodness me Kamahl, 37 years and you’re still “humiliated”,” he wrote.
“You knew where my booth was!
“If you felt so aggrieved by my “quip” you should have had marched up to it, had a quiet word in my ear and I would have desisted from making any further “racist” remarks forever.”
He added: “Keep in mind, we were all performing in less-enlightened (unintended pun) times back in the day and, when I look back over my career on HHIS (via YouTube), I sometimes cringe at what we got away with – but none of it with any intended malice.”
He also recalled offending the music star on a separate occasion, questioning why the star “took umbrage” to him joking that he’d ridden an elephant to the venue.
“I do recall you getting offended after I mentioned you at a Melbourne venue,” he wrote.
“Something along the lines of ‘Kamahl is performing tonight – he’s running just a little bit late because he’s having trouble getting his elephant under the boom gate in the carpark.’ Got a huge laugh but I heard you took umbrage. Why?”
Further, when asked by a fan if he “feels bad” about humiliating Kamahl, he said: “Not in the least!”
Kamahl slammed John Blackman’s defence of the show on Monday, reiterating why he never spoke up at the time.
Speaking to The Project on Tuesday, Kamahl added: “I’d like to hit him with a black powder puff and see what that feels like.”