Veteran late-night host and comedian Jay Leno has apologized for a series of jokes about Asians that he has told over the decades, during his television career, saying “in my heart, I knew it was wrong.” The former Tonight Show host said his his apology isn’t an example of “cancel culture.”
“At the time I did those jokes, I genuinely thought them to be harmless,” Leno said on a recent Zoom call with Guy Aoki, leader of the activist group, Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), according to a report by Variety. “I was making fun of our enemy North Korea, and like most jokes, there was a ring of truth to them.”
Leno reportedly made a joke about a painting of America’s Got Talent judge Simon Cowell and his dogs, saying that the animals looked like food items in a Korean restaurant. The majority of Leno’s old jokes swiped at Asian communities eating dog meat. MANAA campaigned for nearly 15 years to get Leno to apologize.
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“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,’” Leno added. “Too many times I sided with the latter, even when in my heart, I knew it was wrong.”