Leno Calls His Asian Jokes a 'Legitimate Wrong'

Organizations had pressured comedian and networks for 15 years
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 24, 2021 4:17 PM CDT
Jay Leno Apologizes for Years of Asian Jokes
Host Jay Leno attends the Gershwin Prize Honoree's Tribute Concert in March 2020 in Washington.   (Photo by Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP)

Under pressure from Asian American organizations for years, Jay Leno has apologized for jokes he made in the past. "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. He apologized on a Zoom call to Guy Aoki, head of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, Variety reports. Along with Asian Americans Advancing Justice, the organization had called on NBC to end its relationship with Leno over the issue; Leno used to host The Tonight Show on the network. The most recent example was a joke he made in 2019 about Koreans eating dog meat, while serving as a guest judge on America's Got Talent. "At the time I did those jokes, I genuinely thought them to be harmless," Leno said, per the Guardian. "I was making fun of our enemy North Korea, and like most jokes, there was a ring of truth to them."

That was the subject of most of the jokes that were criticized: Asians eating dog meat. The Leno-Aoki meeting took place after the shootings in Atlanta that left eight people dead, six of them Asian American women. Aoki had written to The Tonight Show in 2012 saying that the comedian's jokes were part of a broader pattern that "resulted in a rise in racial profiling and hate crimes against Asians, Asian Americans, and immigrants." More recently in his 15-year effort, Aoki said he went to Fox, where Leno hosts You Bet Your Life, threatening to organize a sponsors' boycott of the show. He then was able to contact Leno. "MANAA has been very gracious in accepting my apology," Leno said in a statement. "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." Yashar Ali tweeted a reminder of his reporting in Vulture that Gabrielle Union complained about Leno's America's Got Talent joke, only to be branded difficult. (More Jay Leno stories.)

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