Jay Leno has apologized for telling racist jokes about Asian people throughout his career.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the former "Tonight Show" host issued an apology while on a recent Zoom call with Guy Aoki, the leader of Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA). The activist group has criticized Leno for nearly 15 years over jokes he made about Asian communities.
"At the time I did those jokes, I genuinely thought them to be harmless," Leno began in his apology. "I was making fun of our enemy North Korea, and like most jokes, there was a ring of truth to them."
"At the time, there was a prevailing attitude that some group is always complaining about something, so don't worry about it," he continued. "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 added, "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. 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."
Last year, it was reported that the comedian made a racially insensitive joke about Asians when he was a guest judge on "America's Got Talent" back in 2019. While speaking to Variety about her short-lived controversial stint on the reality competition series at the time, ousted judge Gabrielle Union claimed Leno compared a painting of Simon Cowell's dogs to food items from a Korean restaurant. Although the joke was cut from the show, it was later confirmed that Leno made the comment.
The former late night host's apology comes amid the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes, which have increased significantly since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic last year. Experts have criticized former President Donald Trump and his administration for fanning the flames of violence by referring to COVID-19 as a "China virus" or "Wuhan virus."
Last Tuesday, a mass shooting in Atlanta left eight people dead, including six Asian women. In the wake of the horrific attack and the surge in violence, Hollywood and beyond have been speaking out in support of the Asian American community.
During his Zoom call with Aoki, along with the MANAA president and vice president, Leno said he's "shocked and saddened" by the violence.
"I would be deeply hurt and ashamed if somehow my words did anything to incite this violence," he said on the call, per THR. "With MANAA's help, I would like to do what I can to help the healing process."
According to THR, Aoki's meeting with Leno was arranged after the former sent a letter to Fox and the producers of the Leno-hosted game show "You Bet Your Life" last November. In the letter, Aoki issued an ultimatum, saying if Leno wasn't fired, MANAA would approach their advertisers. A meeting was ultimately set up months later.