Former Tonight Show host Jay Leno has apologized for a series of offensive jokes told about Asians over the course of his decades-long career in comedy. Complaints about Leno’s jokes are not new, as the apology comes after a 15-year campaign from the activist group Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA). While the comedian always preferred to ignore these concerns in the past, the recent tragedy that left several Asian women dead in Atlanta appears to have altered Leno’s perspective.
Speaking about his Asian-centric jokes on a recent Zoom call with MANAA leader Guy Aoki, Leno finally offered a formal apology, detailing what he was thinking when he said them along with why he paid no mind to the backlash for so long going all the way back to The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
“At the time I did those jokes, I genuinely thought them to be harmless. I was making fun of our enemy North Korea, and like most jokes, there was a ring of truth to them. At the time, 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.”
Now feeling remorseful over these jokes, Leno also apologized. The Jay Leno’s Garage host also made it clear that this is not a result of “cancel culture,” but because he now understands the situation from the perspective of MANAA and others in Asian communities who may have felt offended by the material.
“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.”
Controversy stemming from Leno’s jokes targeting Asian communities have been consistent throughout his career. As recently as last year, he was back in headlines once again for a joke he had reportedly made on the set of an America’s Got Talent commercial when he was serving as a guest judge. In reference to a painting of Simon Cowell and his dogs, Leno joked that the animals “looked like food items at a Korean restaurant.” This prompted criticism that the joke perpetuates stereotypes about Asian people eating dog meat, a common theme in Leno’s other Asian-centric jokes.
After years of trying to get in touch with Leno, Aoki says the meeting finally happened after appealing to Fox Television Stations CEO Jack Abernethy along with Tom Werner and David Hurwitz, the producers behind Leno’s current game show You Bet Your Life on Fox. Leno’s spokesperson has confirmed the apology but offered no further comment. As of now, You Bet Your Life with Leno serving as the host will premiere in the fall of 2021. This news comes to us from Variety.