Kamahl's classy comeback to Hey Hey It's Saturday presenter John Blackman over racism complaints

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Kamahl has graciously hit back at a white Hey Hey It’s Saturday star after he questioned the singer for waiting 37 years to say that he was the target of racism on the show.

During a skit on the variety program in 1984, Kandiah ‘Kamahl’ Kamalesvaran’s face was covered in white powder by a stage hand before presenter John Blackman called out off-screen: ‘You’re a real white man now, Kamahl, you know that?’

The Malaysian-born singer said in an interview on Saturday that he felt ‘humiliated’ by the ‘offensive’ skit, prompting Blackman to fire up and say he would have stopped ‘making any further “racist” remarks’ had it been mentioned at the time. 

But on Sunday, Kamahl responded to the 73-year-old and said he did not respond to the incident almost four decades ago because ‘it’s all about timing’. 

Kandiah 'Kamahl' Kamalesvaran (pictured) is an Australian singer who was born in Malaysia to Tamil-Hindu parents

Kandiah ‘Kamahl’ Kamalesvaran (pictured) is an Australian singer who was born in Malaysia to Tamil-Hindu parents

In a scene on Hey Hey It's Saturday, a stage hand threw white powder in Kamahl's face before voice-over artist John Blackman shouted 'you're a real white man now' (pictured)

In a scene on Hey Hey It’s Saturday, a stage hand threw white powder in Kamahl’s face before voice-over artist John Blackman shouted ‘you’re a real white man now’ (pictured)

‘John Blackman wants to know why I did not make any complaints then,’ he wrote on Twitter.

‘Mr Blackman, you of all people know that it’s all about timing. There’s a time for everything. Why are so many people so unkind?’  

In his interview on Saturday, the 86-year-old told The Guardian: ‘There were a number of instances where I felt humiliated, but I didn’t want to raise any objections or protest about it.’

‘I kept smiling and pretending all was OK.’

He said the 1984 skit was one of the worst instances on the program, which ran on Nine from 1971 to 1999, and said ‘I found that quite offensive’.

John Blackman (pictured) took to Facebook to question why Kamahl had not raised concerns with him about the comment at the time

John Blackman (pictured) took to Facebook to question why Kamahl had not raised concerns with him about the comment at the time 

'John Blackman wants to know why I did not make any complaints then,' Kamahl wrote on Twitter

‘John Blackman wants to know why I did not make any complaints then,’ Kamahl wrote on Twitter

‘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.’ 

Following the interview, Blackman used Facebook to lash out at Kamahl.

‘Goodness me Kamahl, 37 years and you’re still “humiliated”,’ Blackman 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.’

While the former voice over artist conceded that he sometimes ‘cringes at what we got away with’ when looking back at old episodes, he doubled down on his remarks in a fiery tweet on Monday.

Pictured: A scene on Hey Hey It's Saturday where Kamahl was doused in white powder. On Saturday, the singer said the skit left him 'humiliated'

Pictured: A scene on Hey Hey It’s Saturday where Kamahl was doused in white powder. On Saturday, the singer said the skit left him ‘humiliated’

John Blackman worked on the show for its entire 28-year run, from 1971 to 1999 (the cast are pictured)

John Blackman worked on the show for its entire 28-year run, from 1971 to 1999 (the cast are pictured)

‘Kamahl joins the ranks of the Cancel Culture Club – strikes retrospectively at [Hey Hey It’s Saturday],’ Blackman wrote.

He likened firing shots at HHIS to ‘shooting Bambi or fish in a barrel’, and said ‘good one, Kamahl.’  

Asked whether he thought Hey Hey could return, Kamahl carefully told The Guardian he was in favour of ‘clever’ and ‘witty’ humour, but ‘if it’s c**p, maybe we can do without it’.

His comments came days after Daryl Somers, who is returning to the small screen to host Dancing With The Stars All-Stars, sparked controversy when he said Hey Hey would not survive today’s ‘cancel culture’ climate. 

‘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 News Corp.

‘It is a shame because showbiz does not get much of a chance.’

One comment was also made about Kamahl needing to smile so 'we can see him' (pictured) during the show

One comment was also made about Kamahl needing to smile so ‘we can see him’ (pictured) during the show

In one scene, Daryl Somers wore blackface as he impersonated Malaysian-born singer Kamahl

In one scene, Daryl Somers wore blackface as he impersonated Malaysian-born singer Kamahl

The show regularly used cartoons and drawings, one of which depicted Kamahl with a bone through his nose

The show regularly used cartoons and drawings, one of which depicted Kamahl with a bone through his nose

Hitting back at the remarks, Kamahl said he believed some people missed the point when using the term ‘cancel culture’.

‘They’re only trying to limit unnecessarily vulgar or crude terminology or gags or whatever,’ he said. 

Kamahl accepted his profile had been helped by appearing on shows such as Hey Hey, admitting he needed the exposure to build his career and popularity – though he didn’t realise what a ‘minefield’ it would be. 

‘There were a number of instances where I felt humiliated, but I didn’t want to raise any objections or protest about it,’ he said. 

He explained he coped with it by smiling and ‘pretending everything was OK’, not wanting to ruin his own career. 

'You were born and bred in Sydney?' In another, Somers (right) appeared to make fun of a third-generation Chinese-Australian audience member (centre) as he introduced her on camera

‘You were born and bred in Sydney?’ In another, Somers (right) appeared to make fun of a third-generation Chinese-Australian audience member (centre) as he introduced her on camera

In one segment, Kamahl's face was covered with white chalk dust while he sang - in one of many examples of controversial skits

In one segment, Kamahl’s face was covered with white chalk dust while he sang – in one of many examples of controversial skits

A montage of some of the most controversial Hey Hey gags involving Kamahl was shared on social media this week, drawing reactions mostly in support of the singer. 

One particularly outrageous gag saw the lighting department asking Kamahl to smile so ‘we can see him’. 

Another extraordinary clip to since reemerge shows a much younger Somers wearing blackface and impersonating Kamahl. 

Somers darkened his skin with makeup and wore a wig as he performed with the singer on stage. 

Somers is now set to host Seven's reboot of Dancing with the Stars, after hosting the original seven seasons from 2004 to 2007. Pictured with Sonia Kruger

Somers is now set to host Seven’s reboot of Dancing with the Stars, after hosting the original seven seasons from 2004 to 2007. Pictured with Sonia Kruger

Other gags depicted cartoon versions of him with a bone through his nose, and as a pair of bright white teeth against a black background.

In one scene an off-screen voice pondered whether his new album might ‘go black’ instead of gold. 

One clip showed Somers appeared to make fun of a third-generation Chinese-Australian audience member as he introduced her on camera.

‘I’m originally from Sydney,’ the woman said.

Somers then asked: ‘You were born and bred in Sydney? I thought you were going to say your background is from overseas somewhere. So no one in the family speaks Chinese?’

Kamahl did not blame host Somers and implied he wasn’t to blame, saying he was a ‘bystander’ who neither ‘encouraged nor stopped’ the jokes. 

Footage has resurfaced of Daryl Somers' most shocking moments on classic variety show Hey Hey It's Saturday which ran for 28 years in its first run

Footage has resurfaced of Daryl Somers’ most shocking moments on classic variety show Hey Hey It’s Saturday which ran for 28 years in its first run

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Somers has said he wasn’t happy about the shift in public taste towards more ‘politically correct’ jokes, but accepted that 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,’ he said.

‘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.’

Hey Hey It’s Saturday ran for 28 years on the Nine Network from 1971 to 1999, before returning for special episodes in 2009.

A new season of 20 episodes was commissioned in 2010, but the variety program did not return in 2011.

During its run, Hey Hey It’s Saturday had its fair share of controversy.

Last year, TV veteran Somers was called out for performing Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World in blackface on the show in the 1980s.

Another incident in 2009 involved a comedy troupe dressed up as the Jackson Five in blackface for Hey Hey’s regular Red Faces talent show segment.

American singer Harry Connick Jr. was a guest judge on the program and gave the performance a score of zero, saying he never would have appeared on the show if he had known it would involve blackface.

Somers apologised to Harry at the end of the live segment, saying: ‘We may have offended you with that act and I deeply apologise on behalf of all of us.

‘Because I know that to your countrymen, that’s an insult to have a blackface routine like that on the show, so I do apologise to you.’

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