Host and late-night comedian Jay Leno has apologized for a series of jokes told about his career directed at Asian communities.
The apology comes after a nearly 15-year campaign by activist group Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) for comments as recent as VarietyThe 2020 report that Leno mocked Koreans eating dog meat, a complaint that offended numerous players on the set of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”
“At the time I made those jokes, I really thought they were harmless,” Leno said in a recent Zoom call with MANAA leader Guy Aoki. “I was making fun of our enemy North Korea, and like most jokes, there was a tone of truth.”
Leno continued: “At that time, the attitude prevailed that some group always complains about something, so don’t worry about it. Whenever we received a complaint, there were two sides to the argument: either ‘We have to deal with this’ or ‘Fuck it if you can’t take a joke’. Too many times I sided with the latter, even when in my heart I knew it was wrong. “
In light of that, Leno said, “I am issuing this apology. I do not consider this particular case to be another example of a cancellation culture, but rather a legitimate harm that I committed on my part. MANAA has been very kind in accepting my apologies. I hope the Asian American community can accept it as well, and I hope I can live up to their expectations in the future. “
Entertainment and the media have become increasingly vocal and appalled by a wave of anti-Asian violence in the United States, which many attributed to Trump-era rhetoric and blaming China for the spread of the coronavirus. Last week, a lone gunman killed eight people at three spas in Atlanta. Six of the eight victims were Asian women, which has inspired demonstrations across the country opposing hate crimes and supporting the AAPI community.
Most of Leno’s old jokes perpetuated stereotypes about Asian communities consuming dog meat. Aoki said he was finally able to secure a meeting with Leno after appealing to Fox Television Stations CEO Jack Abernethy and producers Tom Werner and David Hurwitz behind Leno’s current game show “You Bet Your Life” on Fox.
A spokesperson for Leno confirmed his apology but had no further comment.