Jay Leno 'Knew It Was Wrong' But Still Spent Decades Making Jokes About Asian CommunitiesMarch 25, 2021
Jay Leno is finally owning up to the countless jokes he’s told over his career taking aim at Asian communities.
In a joint press release with Guy Aoki, the leader for activist group Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), the former Tonight Show host claimed he “knew he was wrong” for cracking jokes that perpetuated negative stereotypes about Asian communities, but continued to say them because it was sadly considered NBD in the late night scene at the time. The New York native explained:
“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.”
But now that times have changed, Leno is hoping to change, too. He 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.”
The apology comes after a nearly 15-year-old campaign from MANAA for comments as recent as 2019, when Leno filmed a commercial interstitial in the America’s Got Talent offices with then-judge Gabrielle Union. While shooting the segment, Leno made a crack about a painting of judge Simon Cowell and his dogs, saying the animals looked like food items at a Korean restaurant.
In a 2020 Variety report, the actress recalled of that moment:
“I gasped. I froze… it was so wildly racist.”
The apology also comes amid a disturbing wave of anti-Asian violence in the US, which many have blamed on Donald Trump’s rhetoric and attributing the spread of the coronavirus to China.
Aoki, a vocal critic of the 70-year-old’s offensive routines, said he connected with the late night legend through Leno’s new employers at Fox, where he hosts the game show You Bet Your Life. The activist initially gave the network an ultimatum of firing the host or MANAA would approach sponsors to boycott the project — but instead, Fox bosses connected Aoki with Leno.
What do U think about Leno’s apology, Perezcious readers? If you ask us, it feels like he really had no choice but to apologize, which kind of takes away from the power of his words — but we guess a forced apology is better than no apology at all? Ultimately, it is up to Asian communities to decide whether or not his apology is accepted.
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