Following the recent tragedy in Atlanta, when eight people — six of whom were Asian women — were killed, TV personality and comedian Jay Leno has apologized for the anti-Asian jokes he made throughout his career.
"At the time I did those jokes, I genuinely thought them to be harmless," the 70-year-old said in a joint press release with activist group Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) on Wednesday, March 24. He apologized to the network verbally over a Zoom call with head of MANAA Guy Aoki.
"I am issuing this apology," The Tonight Show founder said. "I do not consider this case to be another example of cancel culture but a legitimate wrong that was done on my part."
Throughout the years, Leno has been criticized for joking that Koreans eat meat from dogs and/or cats. In his statement, he explained, "I was making fun of our enemy North Korea, and like most jokes, there was a ring of truth to them."
Aoki reportedly complained to The Tonight Show advertisers in 2012 because he felt that Leno’s jokes perpetuated "a persistent belief held by many Americans that Asian Americans and Korean Americans are perpetual foreigners who bring their objectionable dining habits to the U.S.," Aoki said at the time. "We are not accepted as real Americans; rather, we are subjected to ridicule, disdain and abuse, which has resulted in a rise in racial profiling and hate crimes against Asians, Asian Americans and immigrants."
In Leno's recent statement, he explained, "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."
The apology comes almost a week after the recent shooting in Atlanta.
"I’m happy that Jay came around, and that we will be working together in the future. We look forward to supporting Jay’s efforts to do a better job at using his public platform to stamp out systemic racism towards the AAPI community," Rob Chan of the MANAA said.
Variety was the first to report on Leno's apology.