Former late-night television host Jay Leno has issued an apology for a series of jokes told over his career targeting Asian communities.
The apology from the ‘Tonight Show’ comedian comes after a nearly 15-year campaign from the activist group Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) for remarks as recent as a 2020 report that Leno cracked about Koreans eating dog meat, Variety reported.
The dog meat joke reportedly offended numerous people on the set of NBC’s ‘America’s Got Talent.’
‘At the time I did those jokes, I genuinely thought them to be harmless,’ Leno said during a recent videoconference with MANAA co-founder Guy Aoki. ‘I was making fun of our enemy North Korea, and like most jokes, there was a ring of truth to them.’
There was a ‘prevailing attitude that some group is always complaining about something, so don’t worry about it,’ Leno said.
Jay Leno appeared at The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize tribute concert at DAR Constitution Hall on March 4 in Washington, D.C. The former late-night television host has apologized for jokes about Asians throughout his career
Leno on the set of ‘The Tonight Show with Jay Leno’ in February 2014
‘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,’ Leno said.
Leno says the apology was not the result of pressure from so-called ‘cancel culture’ that has drawn complaints from others whose comments came under public fire for actions or statements.
Leno said the apology was the result of ‘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,’ Leno said.
Media Action Network for Asian Americans President Guy Aoki during the organization’s 10th Anniversary Awards Gala in Los Angeles, California. Jay Leno apologized during a videoconference with Aoki for offensive jokes about Asians he told over his career
Aoki connected with Leno following an appeal to Fox Television Stations CEO Jack Abernethy and producers Tom Werner and David Hurwitz.
A spokesperson for Leno confirmed his apology but did not comment further.
Leno had two stints on NBC’s ‘Tonight Show’ from 1992 to 2009 and from 2010 to 2014. In at least nine documented instances dating back to 2002, and as recent as 2012, the former ‘Tonight Show’ host made comments about Koreans eating cats or dogs, The Wrap reported.
In 2002, 48,000 people emailed complaints to NBC after Leno joked that South Korean speed skater Kim Dong Sung ate his dog after his Olympic defeat to American Apolo Ohno, who is of Japanese descent.
One month later, Leno met with NBC’s SVP of diversity and admitted he had no Asian writers on staff. He was instructed to stop making dog-eating jokes, but he did not.
People gather at a March 21 rally to demand safety and protection for Asian communities in the aftermath of the March 16, 2021, shootings in the Atlanta-area that left eight people dead
Members and supporters of the Asian American community attend a ‘rally against hate’ at McPherson Square in Washington, D.C. on March 21, 2021. Three massage parlors around Atlanta were targeted March 16. Robert Aaron Long, 21, faces eight counts of murder and one charge of aggravated assault
Leno said he was ‘shocked and saddened’ by recent cases of violence against ‘my fellow citizens in the Asian community.’
Three massage parlors around Atlanta were targeted in deadly shootings on March 16. Robert Aaron Long, 21, faces eight counts of murder and one charge of aggravated assault. Six of the victims were women of Asian descent.
‘I would be deeply hurt and ashamed if somehow my words did anything to incite this violence,’ Leno said. ‘With MANAA’s help, I would like to do what I can to help the healing process.’
MANAA, a nonprofit organization formed in 1992, monitors television, films, advertising, radio and print ‘to address the negative stereotypes long perpetuated by the media which detrimentally affects all Asian Americans, hurting not only their self image, but how non-Asians treat them,’ the group’s website says.
American Olympian Apolo Anton Ohno, who is of Japanese descent, was referred to in jokes Jay Leno made in 2002 about South Korean speed skater Kim Dong Sung, an opponent of Ohno
FOX Television Stations CEO Jack Abernethy attends the 71st Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater in September 2019 in Los Angeles, California. Abernethy helped arrange a videoconference between Leno and Media Action Network for Asian Americans, which led to an apology about past Asian jokes by Leno