Jay Leno apologizes to the AAPI community for his history of telling racist ‘jokes’

Jay Leno  at the NBC TCA Winter Press To....

Jay Leno has never been funny. Even when he was host of the Tonight Show, his humor was “old school” in the sense of “a white guy with a mic, doing mid-range country club comedy, punching down on marginalized people or groups.” It’s not that Leno was even bold enough to be 100% racist though – most of the time he was just dreadfully unfunny in a really bland way. It was like his comedy was being filtered through focus groups in the 1950s. So, Leno has a new job on Fox called You Bet Your Life. It’s just a game show and he’s the host. Now that he’s getting attention again, Asian-American advocacy groups have drawn attention to Leno’s history of telling racist jokes about Asian people and Asian-American people. Leno “apologized.”

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 a 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 “America’s Got Talent.”

“At the time I did those jokes, I genuinely thought them to be harmless,” Leno said in a joint press release 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. 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. 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 women, 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. Long outspoken about his routines, MANAA’s Aoki said he appealed to Leno’s new employers at Fox, where he hosts the game show “You Bet Your Life,” initially offering them an ultimatum of firing the host or MANAA would approach sponsors to boycott the project.

[From Variety]

Yeah, so the point is that Leno only offered this apology after MANAA contacted Fox and threatened to boycott and target the sponsors of Leno’s new game show. This wasn’t Leno coming to Jesus about all of his problematic comedy over the years. As for the actual apology… whew, where to start. “I was making fun of our enemy North Korea…” Oh, so he was making racist jokes about our political enemy, okay then! I’m sure his viewers would never be confused by that and attack all Asian people then. “I do not consider this particular case to be another example of cancel culture…” So he does think “cancel culture” exists and it’s a bad thing, but this isn’t an example of it. I’m sure that won’t be wildly misconstrued by Fox News either! I’m sure there will absolutely NOT be Fox News headlines reading “Jay Leno Victimized By Democrat Cancel Culture.”

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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55 Responses to “Jay Leno apologizes to the AAPI community for his history of telling racist ‘jokes’”

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  1. Tom says:

    Is anybody saying, You know what my life needs more of? Jay Leno.

    Didn’t think so.

  2. Dutch says:

    I’m sorry where was the apology in that apology? That read like a list of justifications, deflections and self-pity.

  3. Amy Bee says:

    Too late.

  4. Susan says:

    I’ve never been able to pinpoint what his “comedy” reminds me of, but the 1950s white man country club description is perfection! Thank you Kaiser!

    —side note: why is he STILL working??

    • Alarmjaguar says:

      Kaiser (as usual) nailed it. That was such a perfect description of him. Also, I had no idea he was back on TV, but now the apology makes sense. Big sigh

    • Meg says:

      Mediocre is the best word to me describe his comedy

      • Snappyfish says:

        You are being kind. He was never funny.

      • Mia4s says:

        “Mediocre” should be his middle name. And it’s telling just how basic the general public taste is that Leno was the top rated late night show for years. Mediocre, basic, and full of sexism and racism.

        I’ve always thought it telling that Letterman for all his MANY faults (and whoa-boy is that a whole thing!) was honoured and revered and so warming spoken of by so many after retirement. Leno? Not even close…not even a tiny percentage of the same. So again, if Letterman for all his crap is so warmly thought of…what does that say about how bad Leno was behind the scenes??

        Well anyway…Conan>>>>>>>>> both of them.

    • NumNums2012 says:

      Because he’s a rich white man serving up bland, racist humor for other rich white male racists. His audience will eat it up in perpetuity.

  5. Merricat says:

    Jay Leno is an ass and a hack, and all the comedians know it.

    • whatWHAT? says:

      yeah, this, 100%. Leno is NOT funny and also NOT nice. never liked him and never thought he was funny. his monologues were always just LAME and corny.

      Conan is funnier than BOTH Leno and Letterman.

  6. PennyGwen says:

    I’m still bitter about what he did to Conan. So, forgive me if I don’t buy this apology.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Is it history if it was in 2020? Literally why not cancel the toxic white supremacist patriarchy?

    • Sunday says:

      Right – “at the time I did those jokes” …last year? He gives this bs passive aggressive non-apology for stuff he said last year, that he would clearly still be saying if his new bosses hadn’t forced him to apologize? Just gross.

      • SarahCS says:

        That’s what I was coming here to say. That suggests a long time in the past when it clearly isn’t.

        How much of this is sheer arrogance and entitlement and how much is not realising that we live in the internet age and you can’t gaslight people as easily as used to be the case. Receipts don’t die on the internet.

  8. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    I’ve never understood his appeal. Then again, I don’t understand a great many things.

  9. Lowrider says:

    At this rate, every comedian is going to have to apologize for past comments.

    • lucy2 says:

      As they should, if their work was racist, sexist, etc.

    • StormsMama says:

      Nope. Bc context is important.
      And then again, yeah a lot of comedians are white men who make tedious annoying tired jokes about “my wife” or “chicks amirite?!”
      So some of them SHOULD apologize.

      I love stand up. They good ones tell truth as they see it and it’s levity.
      So when considering who is awful ask: were they punching up or down? We’re they exploiting marginalized communities?
      Are they funny or just white and male?

    • Sunday says:

      Comedians are supposed to be funny. Racism, homophobia, and misogyny are not funny, full stop. If you think they are, you’re either racist, homophobic, misogynistic, or deeply stupid. There are plenty of ways to be funny without resorting to any of that, and plenty of ways to bring up those topics in comedy without punching down. If they can’t do that, they shouldn’t be a comedian. Or, they can continue to make racist, homophobic, misogynistic jokes, BUT they have to then accept the label of racist, homophobic, misogynistic for both themselves and the audience that still chooses to support them, which is what most of them balk at.

      • Meg says:

        Exactly i think its a sign of an insecure comic whos not getting a strong response to bring up topics a prejudice person would respond to because theyre responding to their prejudice not the joke was funny or the comic made a smart observation etc

  10. Belle says:

    We cancel people when society has shifted to a new paradigm and are now governed by a new set of rules. This new era of course is progress. It is just me, but whenever someone apologizes for behavior that is rightfully no longer acceptable or never should have been, whether they are sincere or not, it is progress for everyone especially the younger generation. In the bigger picture, the more apologies, the better! It stops others from thinking they can continue or even start that behavior. Do I believe men who came out and apologized for sexually harassing women in the workplace in light of me too movement no? But I feel a bit relieved that more women feel empowered, my daughter is witnessing a path that I never felt was available to me- SPEAK Up. I am a little more secure that my sons will not be “confused” by does no mean no? It does!!!

    Maybe I’m naïveté, but I welcome all apologies, these men are not our future!!! And if they want to jump on the bandwagon and apologize great!!!
    We don’t have to support them. I can’t watch Friends for example because it is cringe with its homophobia but before, I laughed, it was the funniest show. We should cancel, because it pushes for a more accurate path as opposed to rehashing the same inappropriate

    So while I give him credit for the apology because it affects the bigger picture, he is canceled.

    • MF1 says:

      I agree. This is a sign that our norms are changing. And while I don’t care for Leno or his comedy, I do think his apology is not terrible. I appreciate that he straight up owns that his jokes about Asians were “a legitimate wrong that was done on my part.”

  11. Jessie Quinton says:

    He’s a hack, he’s not funny, and what he did to Conan O’Brien was unforgivable. Why anyone thought we needed Jay Leno back on our screens is beyond me.

  12. Ariel says:

    i just recall when his stock and trade was Monica jokes. Not Clinton jokes, or senate investigation jokes, but jokes about the 21 year old girl at the middle of a firestorm.

    • StormsMama says:

      Thank you for bringing this up.
      Despicable man. Just nasty.
      Bill Hicks nailed Leno as the corporate shill he is.

    • lucy2 says:

      I remember when he and his show treated a double murder trial like an entertaining circus. All of the comedians had takes on it, but his was the only show that dressed up five Asian American men as the judge to be the “Dancing Itos”.

    • LightPurple says:

      And the Monica jokes continued through Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and into her time as Secretary of State, over a decade after the scandal.

    • Meg says:

      Yes! Jon oliver did a segment mentioning that late night hosts in that time period have since expressed regret over the number of monica jokes they did and how cruel they became-except leno hasnt.

  13. girl_ninja says:

    When Gabby Union called him out when he told his tacky racist Asian joke on America’s Got Talent she caught sh*t for it.

    Will he apologize to her too?

  14. Paperclip says:

    Still waiting on an apology for his misogynism…

  15. Renee says:

    He needs to apologize to Gabrielle Union too who called his ass out a couple of years ago when she left AGT show. She called him out then and no one backed her up.

    • Liz version 700 says:

      Absolutely! That was just 2 years ago so he was still fine with the jokes well after retirement.

  16. FancyHat says:

    He should apologize to Monica Lewinsky. He was making fat jokes about her for years after the scandal. What an unfunny asshole he is. She, on the other hand, is hysterical.

  17. Lunasf17 says:

    Does anyone even care about Leno anymore? Haven’t heard anything about him in decades. I never followed his career but I guess many do??! There does seem to be a weird pushback with comedians about cancel culture and how many think PC stuff has gone too far (I think I remember Bill Burr recently going off on it). IDK, hopefully we can do better going forward and also recognize that people and society are always growing and changing and what was ok 5 or 10 years ago isn’t ok now. I don’t think we need to cancel every comedian who did a trans joke in the past decade (which was a lot and it was a popular “joke” back then) but also acknowledge that we shouldn’t tolerate it today.

  18. Dragonlady Sakura says:

    How about people stop making racist jokes in the first place so they don’t end up having to apologize for them. 😑

  19. Lena says:

    At the time he did those jokes – NO. I stopped watching him on the tonight show once he felt he had to have the dancing Itos on every night. He is gross.

  20. Meg says:

    They were asking him for an apology for years and years but he only now responded once an upcoming job is potentially in jeopardy. He’s a hack
    Much like justin Timberlake apologizing to britney and janet only publicly once he got negative attention from years old behavior. Nothing about him doing this privately years ago when he matured realizing his error no only doing it now publicly to cover his ass

  21. candy says:

    When is he going to apologize about his misogynistic jokes?

  22. Sarcasm101 says:

    He’s the joke. Was never funny, never will be.

  23. J.Mo says:

    When I saw the news that he had apologized I immediately looked up the reason why, so telling that he had to.

  24. Miranda says:

    I’m of the opinion that comedians should be allowed to joke about anything. Laughter can help you get through some really dark times. Jewish and Black comedy would be nothing if they couldn’t joke about their hardships. And there are some comedians who have joked about other races and religions, but turned it into a defense of them and a stand for equality. The catch is, if the subject matter is controversial, your jokes had better be DAMN funny. Leno’s Asian jokes (like all his jokes, really) are tired as hell. Koreans/Chinese eat dogs, Asians can’t drive…shit like that is so incredibly hacky. My late aunt was Korean, so I have 2 half-Korean cousins, and one of my uncles makes a dog-eating joke to them at every damn family gathering. I admire their restraint for not killing and eating HIM by now. And of course when no one laughs, my uncle will complain that people take it too seriously. No dude, you’re JUST NOT FUNNY. My cousins actually have a great sense of humor about stupid stereotypes. Hell, one of them almost named his dog “Dinner” (his wife vetoed it, because she’s white and would look really bad calling for him at the dog park).

    Also, Leno f–ked over Conan. I will never forgive him for that.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Ok, then can you name one white man whose racist jokes are actually good? Cuz I kind of have thought the subject matter really isn’t going to ever be funny… to anyone other than a racist.

    • Kkat says:

      Nope, a white “comedian” telling racist jokes is racist, no matter if they are funny or not.

      I had a talk with my 15 year old son about the fact that just because a joke is funny, doesn’t mean it’s not racist, homophobic, misogynistic, ect.
      And that if you find it funny, think about why that is.

  25. pamspam says:

    Remember when he used to be funny? No, me either.

  26. Valerie says:

    He knew it was wrong, but he did it anyway. I hate to shoot down apologies for past poor behaviour, but he doesn’t seem anywhere near sincere. He had a lot of opportunities to change his behaviour, if not say something outright, and he didn’t take a single one. He eventually had enough power to control his brand and the direction of his show, and he just kept making the same “mistake” over and over again.

  27. Reece says:

    Team Conan.

  28. L4frimaire says:

    Remember when Gabriel Union called out his racist anti-Asian jokes and she was vilified and fired, and no one backed her up? She was totally right to do so. He’s only doing this faux-pology because it’s no longer ok to make such nasty jokes.

  29. suresweetheart says:

    pathetic washed up white man with a bullshit “apology” that no one cared for. this isn’t going to change the world and literally no one cares about this guys feelings about anything. typical.

    -an asian American woman

  30. Sandy says:

    Love this write-up – HE IS NOT FUNNY!
    How does he still have a job?!