WASHINGTON — Comedians often say that ethnic humor--especially done in exaggerated accents--is tough to pull off. That may be so even for that most glib of legislative quipsters, Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.), whose parodied imitation of Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito has caused such a fuss he has apologized.
D'Amato, who represents one of the nation's premier melting pots, used a caricatured Japanese accent during an appearance Tuesday on Don Imus' syndicated radio talk show while criticizing Ito's handling of the O.J. Simpson trial.
On Wednesday, D'Amato apologized for using the accent but stood by his criticism that Ito has permitted the case to drag on for too long.
"Judge Ito will never let it end," D'Amato said Tuesday, using the accent. "Judge Ito loves the limelight. He is making a disgrace of the judicial system, little Judge Ito. . . . This is a disgrace."
Despite an attempt by Imus to curtail D'Amato's comments, the senator finished his routine using the accent. "And then he's going to have a hung jury," he said. "Judge Ito will keep us from getting televised for the next year," he added, referring to television coverage of Senate proceedings.
Numerous Japanese American groups complained.
"It's inexcusable for a U.S. senator to talk like that," Kazu Ijima of the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence told the New York Daily News. "It shows the depth of his bigotry."
In an attempt to quell the day-old controversy, D'Amato issued a terse apology: "If I offended anyone, I'm sorry. I was making fun of the pomposity of the judge and the manner in which he's dragging the trial out."
Ito did not comment on the uproar Wednesday.