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Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony Director Fired Over Holocaust Joke In 1998 Comedy Act

A day before the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, the show’s director has been fired over a Holocaust joke he made during a comedy routine 23 years ago.

Kentaro Kobayashi has been axed from his post after a clip of his 1998 act surfaced on social media that included the phrase “Let’s play Holocaust.”

The president of the Olympic Organizing Committee apologized in announcing Kobayashi’s dismissal. “We found out that Mr. Kobayashi, in his own performance, has used a phrase ridiculing a historical tragedy,” Seiko Hashimoto said, per the Associated Press. “We deeply apologize for causing such a development the day before the opening ceremony and for causing troubles and concerns to many involved parties as well as the people in Tokyo and the rest of the country.”

Read the TOOC’s official statement below.

Kobayashi also issued a statement today. Roughly translated from Japanese, per NBC, he said: “Entertainment should not make people feel uncomfortable. I understand that my stupid choice of words at that time was wrong, and I regret it.”

Kobayashi used to be part of the comedy duo Rahmens and known overseas for comedy series including The Japanese Tradition. Video and a script of his performance circulated on social media today. The Opening Ceremony is set to begin at 7:55 p.m. local time (6:55 a.m. ET/3:55 a.m. PT) in the Japanese captial’s new National Stadium.

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Hashimoto said the ceremony, which will be held without a live audience, will go on as scheduled, but he added: “I am sure there are a lot of people who are not feeling easy about the opening of the Games, but we are going to open the Games tomorrow under this difficult situation.”

It’s the latest setback for the pandemic-delayed and problem-plagued Tokyo Olympics. On Tuesday, the composer for the Opening and Closing ceremonies was forced to resign over bullying he boasted about in interviews from the 1990s. In an interview with a Japanese magazine, Keigo Oyamada — who goes by the stage name Cornelius — described abusing schoolmates with apparent disabilities. Organizers said Oyamada’s music has been excised from both ceremonies.

Here is the official statement released today from the Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee about Kobayashi’s firing:

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Opening Ceremony Creative Team Member Kobayashi Kentaro was dismissed from his post after a joke he had made in the past about a painful historical event was brought to light. Following this, the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee relieved Mr. Kobayashi of his role as a member of the Team. In the short time remaining before the Opening Ceremony, we offer our deepest apologies for any offense and anguish this matter may have caused to the many people involved in the Olympic Games, as well as to the citizens of Japan and the world.


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