Jay Leno Apologizes for Decades of Jokes About Asians: ‘In My Heart I Knew It Was Wrong’

Late night host and comedian Jay Leno has issued an apology for a series of jokes told over his career targeting Asian communities.

The apology comes after nearly 15-year campaign from the activist group Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), for remarks as recent as Variety‘s 2020 report that Leno cracked about Koreans eating dog meat — a complaint that offended numerous players on the set of NBC’s “Americas Got Talent.”

“At the time I did those jokes, I genuinely thought them to be harmless,” Leno said on a recent Zoom call with MANAA leader Guy Aoki. “I was making fun of our enemy North Korea, and like most jokes, there was a ring of truth to them.”

Leno continued, “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.”

In light of that, Leno said, “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.”

Aoki, a tireless watchdog for the AAPI community, 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.”

Entertainment and media has been increasingly vocal about and horrified by a wave of anti-Asian violence in the U.S., which many attributed to Trump era rhetoric and blaming China for the spread of the coronavirus. Last week, a lone gunman killed eight people at three spas in Atlanta. Six of the eight victims were Asian, which has inspired rallies nationwide standing against hate crimes and supporting the AAPI community.

The majority of Leno’s old jokes perpetuated stereotypes about Asian communities consuming dog meat. Aoki said he was finally able to secure a meeting with Leno after appealing to Fox Television Stations CEO Jack Abernethy, and producers Tom Werner and David Hurwitz, behind Leno’s current game show “You Bet Your Life” on Fox.

A spokesperson for Leno confirmed his apology but did not comment further.

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