Kamahl, John Blackman on whether Hey Hey was so unkind

Updated: Kamahl again remarks on his concerns around race comedy, but John Blackman wishes he had discussed it earlier.

Former Hey Hey announcer John Blackman has responded to an interview given by legendary singer Kamahl around whether he was subjected to racism on Hey Hey it’s Saturday.

It’s not the first time Kamahl has commented on the matter.

Malaysian-born Kamahl was a regular guest on the series which ran from 1971 to 1999. The show enjoyed two hit reunions in 2009 and a return run in 2010. Although he was part of the ‘Hey Hey family’ Kamahl was frequently pranked or part of a running gag (“Why are people so unkind?”).

Recent footage which has not aged well and zeroes in on racial jokes, has circulated on social media. Hey Hey is not alone in this regard, but The Guardian sought comment following an interview by Daryl Somers in which he said the show would not survive today’s cancel culture.

Kamahl, now 86, tells 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.

“I always got along reasonably well with Daryl. I’ve never had any quarrel with Daryl at all, and I don’t think he had any ill-feeling towards me. I don’t think he encouraged it, nor stopped it. He was a bystander.”

Somers Carroll declined to comment for the article.

It’s not the first time Kamahl has remarked on the dilemma of enjoying the show’s publicity while being part of its mayhem. In 2011 he told ACA it was a catch 22, in order to promote his albums and tours he had to cop the gags.

“I wanted the exposure, but the quality of it was never what I had hoped for,” he said then.

Meanwhile John Blackman, who linked to the article on his official site, also commented on Facebook around a 1984 remark which referred to the singer as “a real white man now.”

“Goodness me, 37 years later and you’re still ‘humiliated,'” he wrote. “You knew where my booth was. If you felt so aggrieved by my ‘quip’ you should have marched up to it, had a quiet word in my ear and I would have desisted from making any further ‘racist’ remarks forever. Keep in mind, we were all performing in less-enlightened (unintended pun) times back in the day and, when I look back over my career on HHIS (via YouTube) I sometimes cringe at what we got away with -but none of it with any intended malice.”

Somers recently noted “Our humour was never intended to offend anybody. It was always about having fun: good, clean fun and we don’t have a show like that, that is reflecting the fun any more.”

Kamahl took a different view. ““If something has merit, if it is witty, if it’s clever, so be it. If it’s crap, maybe we can do without it,” he said.

Hey Hey it’s Saturday will mark a 50th anniversary in October via online subscription videos. Kamahl’s latest release is a 3CD collection Heart and Soul spanning his career since 1969.


19 Responses

  1. It was a show for its time where what was said and done was acceptable for its time. I remenber Ita Buttrose said on studio 10 a while ago that you cannot compare what was acceptable years ago to today. I do remember the Kamahl jokes and thought at the time they were a bit too much but i also remember a lot of love for Ricky May. I think John Blackman pushed humour to the edge and bordered on being cruel but i think the majority was the old Aussie attitude of taking the p#ss.

    1. I’m not sure that that reference of Ita’s is an acceptable ~ rather than saying that we can’t compare current empathetic awareness to what was ‘previously acceptable’, we should be acknowledging it as ‘previously unchallenged’, which isn’t to say it was ever acceptable.

      I think Blackman is out of line with his comments on this, essentially saying that it was the responsibility of someone he was belittling to let him know he was wrong for doing so, rather than his own responsibility to be aware, empathetic and informed enough to know for himself that he was in the wrong.

      Toeing the line often derives great comedy. That evaporates when you punch down. Blackman consistently punched down, and as you say, bordered on cruelty.

  2. I used to find this show funny back in the day. However I can see many of the gags haven’t dated well. Some are pretty cringeworthy. As noted by others, a lot of the humour was about making fun of others.

  3. While there is most certainly a thing called cancel culture, this is not an example of it.
    Hey Hey its Saturday was of its time, and times change and we all move on.

    As for the suggestion that Kamahl should have complained to Mr Blackman at the time about his comments, I am not so sure that would have yielded much success. I can well imagine that instead it would be used as more fodder to attack Kamahl (“çan’t you take a joke” , or “you are being to sensitive”) . And I suspect Kamahl knew this.

    Of course, the same style of humour at Hey Hey also used to be used relentlessly against Molly Meldrum, with the ‘joke’ wearing very thin indeed. Ditto for Jackie McDonald. It is one thing to be able to laugh at yourself, but to go on and on about it for years and years is too much. I did watch the show on many occasions, but I used to cringe at the belittling of Kamahl and Moly…

  4. I didn’t think John Blackman’s ( ironic surname 🤔) jokes were overly offensive, but they weren’t witty or even funny either, so, as Kamahl said, they were crap. I don’t think Tina Turner appreciated Dickie Knees ” G’day Granny” line at the time either. Basically Blackman’s style was denigrating others for cheap laughs….but not funny .

  5. Disappointing response from Mr Blackman. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging someone’s hurt at past wrongs and expressing some form of regret but it seems he’s just doubled down on it. Compare this to Magda Szubanski’s recent (multiple) apologies for some of the blackface skits she did on Fast Forward 30 years ago. People acknowledged her regret and were happy to move on. But instead Blackman has gone down the defensive path which is a shame.

  6. It did look like mild bullying to make fun of someone for laughs. Molly also seemed to receive that sort of treatment as well at times. It reminds me of schoolyard so it was very immature. I agree they were less enlightened times. Kamahl should’ve also walked away from bad company back then but was interested in promoting his career.

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