Veteran late-night host and comedian Jay Leno has apologized for a series of jokes about Asians that he has told over the decades, during his television career, saying “in my heart, I knew it was wrong.” The former Tonight Show host said his his apology isn’t an example of “cancel culture.”
“At the time I did those jokes, I genuinely thought them to be harmless,” Leno said on a recent Zoom call with Guy Aoki, leader of the activist group, Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), according to a report by Variety. “I was making fun of our enemy North Korea, and like most jokes, there was a ring of truth to them.”
Leno reportedly made a joke about a painting of America’s Got Talent judge Simon Cowell and his dogs, saying that the animals looked like food items in a Korean restaurant. The majority of Leno’s old jokes swiped at Asian communities eating dog meat. MANAA campaigned for nearly 15 years to get Leno to apologize.
“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,'” Leno added. “Too many times I sided with the latter, even when in my heart, I knew it was wrong.”
Leno said he’s not a victim of “cancel culture.”
“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,” Leno said. “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.”
Nationwide rallies in support of Asians, and apologies for past jokes about Asians have increased in the wake of a fatal shooting spree at Atlanta-area massage parlors that left eight people dead, six of whom were Asian women.
Last week, Teen Vogue‘s new editor-in-chief Alexi McCammond announced that she would be stepping down from her role in the wake of because of decade-old “racist” tweets about Asians.