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Ted Danson Under Fire for Roast of Whoopi Goldberg

October 9, 1993

NEW YORK (AP) _ Actor Ted Danson showed up in minstrel blackface and peppered his jokes with racial epithets at the Friars Club roast of his lover, comedian Whoopi Goldberg.

The former ″Cheers″ star offended Mayor David Dinkins, talk show host Montel Williams and others who said his performance was over the line, even for a function where the highest compliment is a crude, brutal insult.

Danson, appearing in a top hat and blackface with big white painted lips, used the word ″nigger″ more than a dozen times as he joked about his and Goldberg’s sex life and other topics.

With Dinkins about to arrive, Danson said, ″I was told, ‘The mayor’s coming, so be careful, don’t do any political jokes, just do nigger jokes.’ ″

Dinkins, New York’s first black mayor, was introduced by Danson when he entered the room. Dinkins offered a few political jokes, read a city proclamation to Goldberg - a New York native - and left.

Dinkins later told the Daily News he ″was embarrassed for Whoopi and the audience and felt a tremendous sense of relief when it was over.″

Williams walked off the dais seven minutes into Danson’s monologue and left with his visibly upset wife.

″When Ted made the jokes about the racially mixed kids, and everyone knows my wife is white and just gave birth to our child, I could see my wife start to cry,″ Williams told the News. ″If that’s what Whoopi and Ted find funny in their bedroom, it’s not funny to the outside world.″

Williams said he planned to send roses and a note of apology to all the black women sitting on the dais with him for what he said was like ″a meeting of the Klan.″

The women included Anita Baker, Shari Belafonte, Natalie Cole, Jasmine Guy and Vanessa Williams.

Goldberg sat on the dais and occasionally grinned during Danson’s performance in her honor.

She began her rebuttal by saying, ″Nigger, nigger, nigger, whitey, whitey, whitey. It takes a whole lot of (courage) to come out in blackface ... I don’t care if you don’t like it. I do.″

Bob Saks, chairman of the Friars Club, said he was surprised that people were upset.

″Whoopi knew and so did all the black performers what was going to happen. It’s always way over the line - it’s supposed to be,″ he said.

Black model Beverly Johnson also defended Danson’s performance.

″If you can’t see the humor at a place where there’s supposed to be over- the-line jokes, then there’s something really wrong,″ she told the News.

″I was in stitches,″ she added.