YOU GOTTA SAYTINS FOR TED DANSON AND Whoopi Goldberg, who for the last year and a half tried to keep their romance under wraps: When they finally went public, they did it with a bang. Or, perhaps, a bomb. At a Friars Club roast in New York City in Whoopi’s honor, Danson stepped onstage in blackface and stunned his audience with a racial-slur-laden monologue that, for good measure, also touched on oral sex, maid sendee and Whoopi’s intimate physical characteristics. (One of the few printable lines: “We haven’t seen each other in a coon’s age.”) For his big finish, Danson began eating from a tray of watermelon.
Despite the Friars’ cherished tradition of gleefully tasteless, over-the-top humor, many in the audience were aghast. “Totally offensive,” said actor Matthew Modine. New York City Mayor David Dinkins deemed Dan-son’s performance “way, way over the line.” Talk show host Montel Williams stalked out and later released a letter tendering his resignation from the Friars. “Some may find this brand of so-called humor funny,” he wrote. “I do not.”
Whoopi, for one, was definitely not offended—except possibly by Williams, whose walkout, she suggested, had more to do with self-promotion than racial pride. At a press conference the following day, she said that she had written some of Danson’s material and provided his make-up artist. “We are a zebra couple,” she said. “We get mail every day from people calling Ted a nigger lover. That’s what we live with, and it’s the context for the jokes and blackface.” Model Beverly Johnson, who saw Danson’s performance, agreed. “If you can’t see the humor at a place where there’s supposed to be over-the-line jokes,” she said, “there’s something wrong.”
Comic Bobcat Goldthwait—himself no poster boy for propriety—also slammed Danson, but said Ted’s worst offense was not being funny. “He got a couple of laughs,” Goldthwait says. “But there was a lot of squirming.” Yet even accounts of the audience reaction varied widely. “Everyone was in hysterics,” says comic-turned-actor Kevin Pollak. “Especially Whoopi Goldberg.”