‘In my heart I knew it was wrong’ | Jay Leno apologizes for mocking Asians in his jokes

The television host made jokes about Koreans eating dog meat as recently as 2020

Former king of late-night television Jay Leno has asked for forgiveness from people of Asian descent for the years he spent joking about the community’s culture. His apology comes on the brink of national outcry regarding anti-Asian violence across the country.

Leno, who hosted “The Tonight Show” for more than 20 years in the 1990s and 2000s, issued the apology after more than 15 years of reprimand from the activist group Media Action Network for Asian Americans, according to Variety. As recently as last year, the 70-year-old comedian cracked a joke about Korean Americans eating dog meat on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”

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“At the time I did those jokes, I genuinely thought them to be harmless,” Leno said in a joint news 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.”

Credit: NBC

Credit: NBC

Leno said that, at the time of the jokes, he chalked the negative feedback up to a group “always complaining about something.” He later realized that he told jokes that he said he knew was wrong.

“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.”

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In recent months, reports have grown about violence against Asian Americans in communities in California and elsewhere. The recent mass killing of eight people, including six Asian Americans, at various spas in metro Atlanta also spurred calls for a look at hate crimes against the community.

Jokes like ones Leno told during his years on television supported negative perceptions of the community, according to Aoki. Prior to the apology, MANAA had warned that it would boycott Fox Television, which runs the production for Leno’s new show “You Bet Your Life.”

Leno nor Fox would confirm that ultimatum to Variety upon request.