The director for the Olympics opening ceremony, comedian Kentaro Kobayashi, has had his contract terminated just a day before the games kick off, after a 1998 comedy sketch surfaced in which he joked about the Holocaust.
Olympic Organizing Committee president Seiko Hashimoto announced the move during a press conference on Thursday, saying Kobayashi had been fired and that officials would undertake a last-minute “review” of the opening and closing ceremonies, both of which were meant to be directed by the comedian.
“It has come to our notice that Mr. Kobayashi used comments that made fun of a tragic fact in history in his past performance,” Hashimoto said, but added that she would not resign over the scandal.
The controversial joke that landed Kobayashi in hot water came during a sketch performed with his comedy duo, the Ramens, in which he reportedly made an offhand remark about playing a Holocaust ‘game,’ though some Japanese-fluent netizens have disputed the exact context of the gag.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish rights group based in the US, condemned Kobayashi for the two-decade old quip, saying “Any association of this person to the Tokyo Olympics would insult the memory of six million Jews and make a cruel mockery of the Paralympics.”
Any person, no matter how creative, does not have the right to mock the victims of the Nazi genocide.
The comedian is not the first Olympic staffer to have faced the chopping block. In March, the games’ creative head, Hiroshi Sasaki, resigned after suggesting a plus-size entertainer set to perform at the opening ceremony could appear in pig ears, and calling her an “Olympig.” Earlier this week, Japanese composer Keigo Oyamada, who was tapped to write music for the opening ceremony, also stepped down after interviews from the 1990s resurfaced, in which he spoke of mercilessly bullying his high school classmates, including a disabled student.
The Tokyo Olympics have encountered a long series of troubles, having been postponed for a full year due to concerns surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. Even with the opening ceremony set to kick off in less than a day, the “cursed” games could still face disaster, with the organizing committee warning as late as Tuesday that it still hadn’t ruled out canceling the event altogether, citing lingering coronavirus fears.