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November 30, 2021

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Jay Leno Apologizes For History Of Racist Jokes Against Korean People

KEY POINTS

  • Jay Lenon apologized for his derogatory comments against Korean people 
  • The comedian said he knew from his heart that his joke was wrong but ignored it
  • Lenon said the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) has accepted his apology

Jay Leno is sorry for his mean comments against Asians, especially to the Korean people.

Leno, 70, previously made racist jokes about Asians that centered around the stereotype of Korean people allegedly consuming dog meat. After receiving criticisms for decades, he finally apologized in a sit-down interview with Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) leader Guy Aoki in a Zoom call in February.

“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,” he said according to a MANAA press release per People.

“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.”

After acknowledging his mistake, Leno said he was sorry for his past actions. He was thankful to MANAA for accepting his apology and hoped that the Asian community will do the same.

“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,” he continued. “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.”

It took years for Leno to apologize for the issue. MANAA had been calling him out for his public jokes about the Korean people since 2002. Gabriel Union also claimed that he made derogatory comments when they were on “America’s Got Talent” in 2019.

Aoki also commented on Leno’s racist jokes about the North Koreans in 2012 saying many Americans fail to distinguish a person of Korean heritage living from North Korea, South Korea or in the U.S. They can’t even distinguish between Asians and Asian Americans and Leno’s jokes perpetuate what many Americans believe — that Asian Americans and Korean Americans bring their objectionable dining habits to the U.S. — and it subjected them to more ridicules.

“We are not accepted as real Americans; rather, we are subjected to ridicule, disdain and abuse, which has resulted in a rise in racial profiling and hate crimes against Asians, Asian Americans and immigrants,” Aoki was quoted by The Hollywood Reporter as saying.

Aoki asked NBC to end its business relationship with Leno in 2019. The Asian American advocacy group said Leno had “been an unrepentant repeat offender and still has a bizarre fixation with Asians eating dogs” at the time. 

Leno’s apology comes amid a wave of increased hate crimes against Asian Americans. Just recently, Meghan McCain also apologized for condoning former President Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric of calling the COVID-19 pandemic “Chinese virus” after John Oliver called her out in an episode of “Last Week Tonight.”

Jay Leno Host Jay Leno sits at his desk during a commercial break while taping the last episode of “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” in Burbank, Calif., Feb. 6, 2014. Photo: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni