Amid the wave of escalating violence against Asian Americans, Jay Leno has apologized for his past anti-Asian jokes.
The former late night host expressed his remorse during a Zoom call with Guy Aoki, the leader of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, according to Variety.
“At the time I did those jokes, I genuinely thought them to be harmless,” Leno said. “I was making fun of our enemy North Korea, and like most jokes, there was a ring of truth to them.”
“At the time,” Leno explained, “there was a prevailing attitude that some group is always complaining about something, so don’t worry about it. Whenever we received a complaint, there would be two sides to the discussion: Either ‘We need to deal with this’ or ‘Screw ’em if they can’t take a joke.’ Too many times I sided with the latter even when in my heart I knew it was wrong.”
Leno continued: “I am issuing this apology. I do not consider this particular case to be another example of cancel culture but a legitimate wrong that was done on my part. MANAA has been very gracious in accepting my apology. I hope that the Asian American community will be able to accept it as well, and I hope I can live up to their expectations in the future.”
There was no immediate further comment from Leno on his remarks.
The 70-year-old comedian’s lines often played on the stereotype that Asians eat dog meat. That was the case in April 2019, when Leno was a guest judge on America’s Got Talent. Then-judge Gabrielle Union found it offensive when Leno commented that a painting of Simon Cowell’s dogs looked like something “on the menu of a Korean restaurant.” Union asked producers to report the incident to human resources, although it was never reported. Leno’s comment was cut from the episode before it aired, but it became public in 2019, after Union was fired from the talent competition and reports emerged that, before parting ways with the show, she had spoken against an overall toxic workplace culture. (She later took legal action against the production companies behind the show and others.)
As for Leno, he first appeared on TV in a 1976 episode of Good Times. He became a fixture of the medium when he hosted NBC’s The Tonight Show, first from 1992 to 2009 and again from 2010 to 2014. He currently hosts the series Jay Leno’s Garage.
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