Angry chants and thundering drum beats filled the air in front of WLS TV Ch-7’s downtown studios Thursday morning. More than 100 Chinese activists gathered to protest a skit that aired last month on comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s late night show on ABC.
The skit involved a “Kids’ Table” panel asked what America should do about its heavy debt to China. One child suggested killing all the Chinese to which Kimmel responded with a satiric “that’s an interesting idea.” Later in the bit, Kimmel characterized it as “Kids’ Table: the Lord of the Flies edition.”
The comedy skit has enraged Chinese and Chinese supporters across the nation who believe it endorsed violence. They staged national protests this week, and formally complained to the network and Kimmel. The comedian has issued at least two apologies, as has the network. But protesters say they won’t stop until Kimmel resigns.
Common chants at the protest—attended mostly by Chinese-born Americans—were “fire Jimmy Kimmel” and “apologize on air.”
“It needs to be more severe than just saying ‘I’m sorry’,” said Shao Li, who was representing alumni of Beijing University. “This is a major station and they have to have standards for the news people and the whole society because they have a big influence. As Chinese-Americans, we felt offended.”
China expert and the author of China Inc. Ted Fishman said on WBEZ’s Afternoon Shift Thursday that some of this may stem from a cultural disconnect.
“There is an issue with the style of pop cultural communication that makes listeners from China challenged when they hear our style of humor and commentary,” Fishman said. “You are not allowed to say so many things that are just part of common everyday conversation for us here.”
Thursday, an online petition to the White House asking it to “investigate” the matter reached 100,000 signatures, a number that is supposed to trigger a response from the executive branch. The petition asked the Obama administration to “immediately cut the show.”
Sam Ma of the Chinese American Community was at the rally handing out copies of a letter from Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-IL) saying “I agree with you and other members of the Chinese American Community who take exception to the joke told by Jimmy Kimmel using China as the butt end.”
Ma believes that Chinese are unfairly singled out for ridicule because it’s assumed they won’t fight back.
“Why do the channels always pick the Chinese community for joking and not the Spanish or African community?” he asked.
Last month, ABC issued a statement saying, “We would never purposefully broadcast anything to upset the Chinese community, Asian community, anyone of Chinese descent or any community at large.”
As president of the Chinese American Association of Greater Chicago, celebrated Chinese chef/owner Tony Hu was one of the protest organizers. He said that the apologies came too late abut that he hopes for a positive outcome.
“We are very very sad about what happened with ABC and Jimmy Kimmel’s show,” he said. “We love the USA and we love China but most important is that everybody loves peace. Jimmy Kimmel’s show makes everybody mad and angry. You can’t say this kind of thing on a most popular show. It’s misleading kids and misleading people.”
Monica Eng is a WBEZ web producer. Follow her @monicaeng