Jay Leno has made an apology for a history of making anti-Asian jokes.
The comedian and former host of The Tonight Show has found himself under fire for over a decade for making offensive jokes that provoked the organisations Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (Manaa) to call for NBC to sever ties.
“I am issuing this apology,” Leno said on a Zoom call with Guy Aoki, head of Manaa, according to Variety. “I do not consider this particular case to be another example of cancel culture but a legitimate wrong that was done on my part.”
Leno was most recently criticised in 2019 for joking that Koreans eat dog meat while appearing as a guest judge on America’s Got Talent. The joke was reportedly made in front of an Asian staffer.
“At the time I did those jokes, I genuinely thought them to be harmless,”he said. “I was making fun of our enemy North Korea, and like most jokes, there was a ring of truth to them.”
Leno continued: “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.”
Aoki has publicly called for action for many years. Back in 2012, he wrote a letter to Tonight Show advertisers stating that Leno’s repeated jokes were part of a problem that meant Asian Americans were regularly “subjected to ridicule, disdain and abuse” which he said “resulted in a rise in racial profiling and hate crimes against Asians, Asian Americans and immigrants”.
He has accepted Leno’s apology and Leno, 69, who currently hosts Jay Leno’s Garage, has expressed his wish for it to be accepted at large. “I hope I can live up to their expectations in the future,” he said.
The meeting between Aoki and Leno took place in the wake of the mass shooting in Atlanta which led to the deaths of eight people, including six Asian women. During the pandemic, Asian Americans have reported thousands of hate-related incidents.