Jay Leno, the American comedian and the former host of the Tonight Show, apologised on Thursday for making racist remarks on Asians on several occasions over two decades. The apology was issued after the Media Action Network for Asian Americans’ (MANAA) decade-long contention with Leno, who currently hosts the show, Jay Leno’s Garage.
“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,” Leno said.
According to the joint press release with MANAA, Leno made at least nine documented jokes about Koreans or Chinese eating dogs or cats between 2002 and 2012.
“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. That is why 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.
Leno was called out on several occasions, and NBC was asked to drop the show or drop him from the contract. While NBC chairperson Robert Greenblatt promised to stall the jokes, they revived after Leno came on board as one of the judges on the show, America’s Got Talent.
As per the statement, Leno had commented on a portrait of Simon Cowell with dogs, and likened it with something you’d see “on the menu of a Korean restaurant”. While judge Gabrielle Union was upset and wanted producers to report it to Human Resources, they didn’t. Similarly, after Variety carried the news in 2020, MANAA’s letter to the NBC executives, urging them to cut-off all ties with Leno including his show Jay Leno’s Garage, was met with no response.
Leno’s apology comes in the backdrop of eight people killed by a gunman, six of them being Asian women, in three spas in Atlanta, and the furore against racism in America.
However, acknowledging MANAA’s grievances against the comedian, 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.”