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Jay Leno has apologized for his lengthy history of racially insensitive jokes about Asian people, following repeated campaigns by Asian American groups demanding action to address the jokes.
During his tenure as host of NBC's The Tonight Show, Leno repeatedly made jokes about Korean people eating dogs, and allegedly made a similar joke, which was not aired, during a guest appearance on America's Got Talent in 2019. The AGT news led to calls by Asian advocacy groups for NBC to cut ties with the comedian.
In a press release issued by Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) on Wednesday, Leno said, "At the time I did those jokes, I genuinely thought them to be harmless. 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.
"That is why I am issuing this apology," he continued. "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."
"I'm happy that Jay came around, and that we will be working together in the future," MANAA president Rob Chan said in a statement. "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."
Hate crimes against Asian Americans have spiked in the last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a phenomenon that has been linked to President Donald Trump's statements on the coronavirus, which he frequently referred to as the "China virus" or "Chinese virus." Last week, a series of shootings in Atlanta left eight people dead, six of whom were Asian women.
According to MANAA's press release, Leno issued his apology after meeting with Chan, MANAA founding president Guy Aoki, and vice president Lawrence Lim over Zoom. This followed more than a decade's worth of efforts by Aoki to secure a meeting with the comedian.
"I was shocked and saddened by what has been happening to my fellow citizens in the Asian community," Leno added. "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."
Per the press release, MANAA has helped Leno secure an Asian American guest for the upcoming season of his CNBC show Jay Leno's Garage.