Nearly two years into the pandemic and following an enormous spike in anti-Asian hate crimes, Jimmy Kimmel's latest joke about COVID-19 is striking viewers as incredibly insensitive, if not racist.
In a recently aired monologue, the late-night host made a joke comparing coronavirus variants to the late '90s boy bands craze. "These variants, all the different variants in the world right now, it reminds me of the boy bands in the late '90s and early 2000s," he began.
"You had the big ones like Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, and then that mutated into O-Town and 98 Degrees. The JoBros popped up, Big Time Rush, they kept splitting off in different directions, eventually One Direction," he continued. "And they took pieces, and it popped up all over the world until eventually we get to one that’s so contagious it destroys all life on earth."
While the 54-year-old didn't mention the immensely popular South Korean boy band BTS by name, many fans and viewers alike are saying the comparison is obvious — especially since he made similar jokes when speaking with Emily in Paris star Ashley Park last week.
Ashley, who did a cover of BTS's "Dynamite" on the show, revealed she got COVID around the time some members of the group — RM and V — acknowledged her performance, which she mistakenly thought was just a visceral reaction to being excited. In response, Jimmy said, "You thought it was BTS fever. They're both very dangerous; you're lucky to come out of those alive."
ARMY and others are angered by the allusion because BTS has repeatedly been the subject of xenophobic jokes, particularly with regard to COVID.
The band previously released a statement recalling the racist experiences they've faced following the Atlanta spa shooting: "We have endured expletives without reason and were mocked for the way we look. We were even asked why Asians spoke in English. We cannot put into words the pain of becoming the subject of hatred and violence for such a reason."
This isn't the first time Jimmy has been called out for anti-Asian comments. In 2017, the Oscar host was under fire for mocking an Asian woman's name. In 2013, he aired a segment that advocated for "killing everyone in China" as a solution to the US debt problem. People protested in response, leading Jimmy and ABC to apologize.
We'll be sure to update you if Jimmy addresses the controversy. In the meantime, let's just agree that any jokes making fun of COVID's devastating toll on the world, especially in relation to an Asian boy band and in the wake of rising hate crimes, is not OK!