I suppose it’s plausible that Chris Curtis’s clumsy and vague apology for making a racially offensive joke on WEEI’s “The Greg Hill Show” Tuesday morning was the whole truth.
After all, this is someone who once “won” back-to-back “Battle of the Brainless” competitions several years ago on the station’s previous morning drive program, “The Kirk and Callahan Show.” If he ever had a thirst for knowledge, he was long ago left dehydrated.
Curtis, an executive producer and on-air personality, gave a meandering mea culpa at the top of Thursday’s program after he had chimed in to Tuesday’s discussion about the hosts’ favorite “nips” — small bottles of alcohol — and blurted, “Oh, I’d probably go Mina Kimes.”
Kimes, a thoughtful, funny NFL analyst who has one of the highest approval ratings of anyone at ESPN, is of Korean descent on her mother’s side. “Nips” can be used as a slur aimed at Japanese people. The dots of presumed intention were not difficult to connect.
During his apology Thursday before beginning a weeklong suspension, Curtis explained that he did not mean to say Kimes’s name, but rather that of actress Mila Kunis.
I was first given this explanation Wednesday when a spokesperson at Audacy — WEEI’s parent company — indicated in an email that Curtis had intended to say Kunis’s name. My response: “That makes no sense.” That was the end of the correspondence.
Kimes, who was not aware of the comment until later Wednesday and had never heard of Curtis, changed her Twitter profile picture to one of Kunis in response to my incredulous tweet about Audacy’s trial balloon of an explanation. It’s a shame she got dragged into this, but she could not have handled it better.
So it was somewhat of a surprise when Curtis said on-air Thursday that that was indeed his intention — to make a comment about Kunis, not Kimes, whom he apologized to repeatedly on a regional radio station 3,000 miles from where she works.
“I attempted to bring up Mila Kunis, which was not really that funny, [it was] sophomoric and sexist, but for reasons I don’t understand, I said ‘Mina Kimes,’ ” said Curtis. “That was never the intention for me to say her name.”
What Curtis did not do is explain what his interjection about Kunis was supposed to mean. Then again, what rational explanation could he possibly have had? “No, see, this isn’t a racist joke, it’s a sexist joke. I meant to demean a different woman, and I guess I’m sorry if I offended you.”
You know a “joke” should have been swallowed rather than spoken when the best-case scenario is that it’s misogynistic and you can’t even muster a bumbling explanation for why you said it.
Curtis’s apology was obtuse at best, and the public embarrassment of this matter is probably going to be more of a deterrent than his wrist-slapping one-week suspension without pay. I’m not calling for a firing here, but the apparent going rate at the station of a one-week hiatus for making a racist or sexist comment is rather low. It’s not like the show, which oscillates between a chore and a bore on most days, would suffer without his overbearing presence.
While Curtis’s explanation of the Kimes/Kunis juxtaposition was dubious even if he is ultimately telling the truth, the most irritating part of the apology actually came from the person whose name is on the show.
As Curtis wrapped up his circular apology and prepared to head off for his week in the sports-radio penalty box, Hill said, “I agree with you, Curtis, that this is not what this show is and it’s not what this radio station is.”
Now, since Mike Thomas returned to the market as executive vice president and market manager for Audacy Boston in October 2021, WEEI has been a better place. Thomas and operations manager Ken Laird have hired talented women, including the morning show’s Courtney Cox and afternoon drive co-host Meghan Ottolini, into prominent roles. There has been progress.
But the stains of the past, most notably the comparison by former hosts Gerry Callahan and John Dennis of an escaped gorilla to Metco busing students 20 years ago, aren’t totally erased. Curtis’s comment, no matter the intent, will assure the station’s old reputation endures a little longer. Funny how the “this is not who we are” line usually comes after someone reveals exactly who they are.
This is not just a WEEI thing, of course. Just over a month ago, 98.5 The Sports Hub host Tony Massarotti was suspended for making a racially insensitive comment. It’s a sports-radio bro-culture thing, where hosts of daytime programs have four hours a day, five days a week to fill, leaving plenty of room for misguided (at best) attempts at being humorous and edgy from people who aren’t sure how to be funny when they can’t be crude or demeaning.
Last month, it was Massarotti. This month, Curtis. And the hypothetical whiteboard marked “Days Since A Boston Sports Radio Host Has Had to Apologize For A Racist or Sexist Comment” was reset to zero.
Here’s hoping, for the sake of Boston’s reputation at least, that we can get through April without having to reset it again. This is all so brainless, and until it stops happening for good, it is who they are, and it’s who people elsewhere will believe we are, too.