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Is This Old Steve Martin Music Video Racist?

When Steve Martin was still in his Wild and Crazy Guy phase in the late 70s, he jumped on the King Tut craze that was sweeping America. The boy king of ancient Egypt was on tour through the U.S. and everyone was talking about the mummy, the jewels and all the treasures that was included in the collection.

Martin called up his buddies in The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, renamed them the Toots Uncommons (Egyptologists get the pun) and recorded this 1978 single called “King Tut” which reached #17 on the charts.

Before we go any further, watch the video of this SNL performance carefully. (Sorry about the quality of the video, but this is all I could find.)

Got that? If you found this any way amusing (despite all its lameness, of course), you might be a racist–at least according to some students at Reed College, a liberal arts college in Oregon.

Racist? Why? Cultural appropriation of ancient Egyptian culture.  The Atlantic reports:

[M]any students found the video so egregious that they opposed its very presence in class. “That’s like somebody … making a song just littered with the n-word everywhere,” a member of Reedies Against Racism (RAR) told the student newspaper when asked about Martin’s performance. She told me more: The Egyptian garb of the backup dancers and singers—many of whom are African American—“is racist as well. The gold face of the saxophone dancer leaving its tomb is an exhibition of blackface.

Um, okay. But keep in mind that Martin wrote the song and the skit because he wanted to satirize the public’s commercialization of Tututkammen exhibit, saying it was “a national disgrace the way we have commercialized it with trinkets and toys, T-shirts and posters.”

If you want go deeper into the whole thing, be my guest.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37808 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “Is This Old Steve Martin Music Video Racist?

  • We’re entering a dangerous time in society, where we are judging the past with the morals and ethics of the current day. Things like this will unfortunately be the death of comedy, and comedians. Everything will be seen as an attack on gender, race, sexual orientation, cultural appropriation, etc.


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