Shock comic Ralphie May’s weekend show in Bemidji was canceled late Wednesday in response to withering social media fire after an 44-second audio clip surfaced on YouTube of him spewing insults at American Indians.
May had been on the calendar at Bemidji’s Sanford Center for Saturday night, but City Council Member Reed Olson said Wednesday evening that it had canceled his appearance on the advice of city leaders.
Bemidji and surrounding areas have a substantial American Indian population, and critics said his humor was mean and racist.
The clip is a profanity-laced string of stereotypes. May attacks Indians, calling them unemployed alcoholics in need of haircuts. He said they “never made it to the Bronze Age,” which is why white settlers took their land with “smallpox blankets and a bag of beads.”
On Wednesday, the Sanford Center’s Facebook page erupted with outraged comments under the announcement of May’s pending show. Arena management posted an apology, but said it was legally obligated to put on the show.
By early evening, however, center managers had spoken with city officials and “asked us to weigh in — actually, just to tell them what to do,” Olson said Wednesday night. “Because they’re a quasi-governmental entity, we agreed. And as soon as we realized how the show was being received, we said, ‘We’re just not going to have it here.’ ”
He said the decision wasn’t made at a meeting because the mayor and other city leaders were out of town. “I felt for the center’s planners,” Olson said. “Had they foreseen how this would have been perceived, they never would have booked this show.”
Olson said that the timing of the show was “especially unfortunate” given that the Bemijigamaag powwow is planned for April 23 at the Sanford Center. “Bemidji has struggled with major racial tensions, which is why this is so, so important,” he said.
Olson said that center management’s belief that the show would have to go on because of a legal contract quickly changed as public sentiment became clear. “The venue buys shows, and yes, it will be out some money for canceling this one, but that is immaterial, given the issue here,” he said.
May argued that the clip that started the firestorm was a small excerpt from a longer bit that ended by showing that the joke was on bigots who make vile comments, not targeted minorities such as American Indians.
“The whole crux of the joke was the buildup to a ridiculous reason to hate because all hate is stupid — a resounding theme in all my comedy,” May tweeted. “I make jokes about whites, blacks, Asians, Latinos, Jews, Arabs, gays. None are PC but at the end of it they all show how hatred is stupid.”
It was a rant, he said, “that began or ended with ‘I’m still mad at Indians because ‘Dances w/ Wolves’ beat ‘Goodfellas’ for the Oscar in 1992.’ ”
May is scheduled to perform at the Ames Center in Burnsville April 14.