A 44-second rant against American Indians cost comedian Ralphie May his upcoming show in Bemidji.
On Thursday, City Manager Nate Mathews formally directed Bemidji’s Sanford Center to cancel the comic’s Saturday night performance and refund tickets to customers “due to concerns about the appropriateness of what the comedy material could contain.”
May has been under withering social media fire since Tuesday night, when a brief audio clip from a 2005 show surfaced on YouTube. In the profanity-laced clip, May delivered a series of insults and racial slurs against American Indians to a laughing audience. Among other things, he described Indians as unemployed alcoholics whose culture never made it to the Bronze Age.
On Thursday, a subdued May took to YouTube to deliver an apology and to try to explain that the clip had been taken out of context from a much longer comedy routine.
The clip, he said, cuts off before he gets to the punchline — that the rant is coming from someone who’s upset because “Dances with Wolves” beat “Goodfellas” for Best Picture at the 1992 Academy Awards. The routine was meant to poke fun at racists, he said, not their targets.
“We’re all victims in this,” he said in his apology. “For that, I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve this. Not from me, not from this face, not from this point of view, not this accent. You didn’t deserve it and I’m sorry.”
Anyone who heard the routine in context, he said, would never “think it’s anything but a joke. That’s all it was, was a joke.”
As part of his apology, May had offered to donate the profits from his Bemidji performance if the city allowed the show to go on.
But insults and stereotypes against American Indians hit close to the bone in a community surrounded by three reservations and a long history of simmering racial tension.
May said the people who edited his jokes and posted them online and out of context, “used my voice to inflict pain on people — innocent people.”
Bemidji City Council Member Reed 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,” Olson said.
May, whose “Unruly” comedy tour will travel to Burnsville on April 14, continues to respond to critics on his Twitter feed. In a Thursday interview with Indian Country Today Media Network, he noted that he has Cherokee ancestry himself and that he never meant his words — out of context or not — to hurt anyone.
On Twitter, he wrote: “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.”