Jay Leno is apologizing for decades of racist jokes he’s made about Asian people.
Leno recently met with the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) to discuss how his past comments have been harmful to the Asian community, according to a press release from the advocacy group.
In the release, MANAA revisited a long and detailed history of racist jokes about Asians made by Leno between 2002 and 2012, as well as a joke he reportedly made on the set of “America’s Got Talent” in 2019 about Koreans eating dogs. The group states that, after multiple unsuccessful attempts to have a direct conversation with Leno and NBC throughout the years, MANAA leadership finally met with the comedian on Feb. 10 and received an apology and a pledge from him to do better.
Leno said in a statement that, when he made these jokes, he “genuinely thought them to be harmless.”
“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.’ “
But the comedian says he now regrets making these jokes.
“Too many times I sided with the latter even when in my heart I knew it was wrong,” he said. “That is why 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.”
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Leno’s apology comes in the wake of three shootings near Atlanta-area spas on March 16, in which eight people, most of them of Asian descent, were killed. Additionally, Asian Americans have reported the single biggest increase in serious incidents of online hate and harassment, as slurs blaming people of Asian descent for the coronavirus pandemic spread over the past year, according to a new ADL survey shared exclusively with USA TODAY on Wednesday.
“I was shocked and saddened by what has been happening to my fellow citizens in the Asian community,” Leno said in the release. “I would be deeply hurt and ashamed if somehow my words did anything to incite this violence. With MANAA’s help, I would like to do what I can to help the healing process.”
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Leno added that MANAA, which seeks to improve the depiction of Asian Americans in media, 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,” he added.
MANAA president Rob Chan said in a statement that he’s “happy that Jay came around” and that the comedian and MANAA “will be working together in the future.” According to the release, the group has already helped the comedian find an Asian American guest for the upcoming season of his reality show “Jay Leno’s Garage.”
“We look forward to supporting Jay’s efforts to do a better job at using his public platform to stamp out systemic racism towards the AAPI community,” Chan added.
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Contributing: Jessica Guynn, Aleszu Bajak