ALF: The Racist Tapes

Remember ALF, the 1980s sitcom that millions watched but no one actually admitted watching?

Last week, a new outtakes clip from ALF hit the Internet, in which the actor playing ALF made a series of offensive comments.

Warning: This clip contains offensive language. 

People have long debated the appropriateness of racist language in comedy, and I don’t intend to enter that debate with this blog post. It’s not much of a leap, though, to suggest that many people surely find the actor’s use of the “n-word” offensive. That the actor also mocked people with Tourette’s Syndrome (a topic of a then-recent L.A. Law episode) and aimed sexually explicit jokes toward a female co-worker is also notable, but not the topic of this post.

Instead, I’d like to highlight the response of a former ALF associate producer, Steve Lamar, who was asked by TMZ about the new outtakes clip earlier this week:

“You’re talking about 20 years ago when the world was not so ridiculously PC. Anyone that’s offended needs to lighten up already.”

The problem, according to Mr. Lamar, isn’t that an actor used words on-set that are offensive to a wide swath of Americans – but rather that those Americans are “ridiculous.” Plus, his inference that the n-word was acceptable in the 1980s seems rather dubious.

Instead of simply apologizing, Mr. Lamar chose to dig in, extending the shelf-life of the story and diminishing his reputation. His comment reminds me of the one that forced former Sen. Trent Lott to resign his leadership post in 2002 (his quip at a birthday party for Sen. Strom Thurmond seemed wistful for simpler, more segregationist times).

If given another chance to comment, Mr. Lamar would be wise to simply express his regret for the use of racist language on the ALF set and apologize to those offended by the incendiary words.

He might take a lesson on tone from MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, who offered a textbook apology after unintentionally stepping into a racial minefield with Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele earlier this year.

Finally, I’m not sure why Mr. Lamar even chose to comment on-the-record, as the clip doesn’t suggest he personally uttered any of these words. But if he’s going to comment, he better get it right.