According to the actors, Will Friedle’s lifechanging moment came as Trina McGee was coming out of her dressing room in a red headscarf — which prompted Friedle to jokingly compare her to Aunt Jemima, the former maple syrup mascot who was retired in 2020 due to wider cultural conversations about the mascot being a racial stereotype (via).
“In my head, I attached no cultural significance to that whatsoever,” Friedle said on the “Pod Meets World” episode with McGee. “I saw a person who I thought was my friend but didn’t know very well, wearing a big, red hat. That’s all I saw. I was like, ‘You’re part of the cast, so that means, I’m gonna make fun of you the same way I make fun [of others].’ I thought, ‘Gonna make fun of her red hat.’ That’s as far as my dumbass, privileged mind saw. So right before I walked on for my part, I walked by and went, ‘Love your syrup,’ and walked on to the set, thinking ‘Boom, zing! Just got her for her hat.'”
Friedle recalled speaking to McGee immediately after the comment, saying he told her: “I assumed that was like you calling me the jolly green giant,” to which she obviously disagreed. “You were like, ‘No, that’s not the same thing at all,'” Friedle told McGee. And while Friedle does note that cultural awareness of these issues was less discussed in the nineties, he explains that he was mortified once he found out, and that it was life-changing moment where he started taking these deeper issues into account. Thankfully, according to McGee, the two of them later hugged it out and Friedle apologized.