Former late-night television host Jay Leno has issued a public apology to Asian-Americans for jokes he has told over his career. The apology came during a conference call he participated in with an Asian-American advocacy group. Leno is going out of his way to say that this isn’t an example of cancel culture, but rather a serious case of him “making the wrong choices” and taking responsibility for his decisions. But it just seems like there has to be more to this story than first meets the eye. Leno has been gone from The Tonight Show for more than seven years and largely out of the public eye. What prompted this sudden act of contrition? (CBS Los Angeles)
Comedian Jay Leno issued an apology Wednesday for past jokes about Asians and Asian Americans.
Media Action Network for Asian Americans said the former “Tonight Show” host expressed his remorse in a recent Zoom call between himself and the group’s leadership.
The Asian American advocacy group said it has spent years complaining about Leno’s comments.
In 2002, the 70-year-old comedian joked about Chinese people and about Korean people eating dogs. Those comments were said to have continued over the years.
Leno didn’t walk back his former comedy routines with offering a defense of his choices. He claimed that the jokes were aimed at “our enemy North Korea,” and he “genuinely thought they were harmless” at the time. But based on some of the examples that MANAA cited, Leno frequently just said “Koreans,” not specifically “North Koreans.” And he also joked about the Chinese. Granted, there’s plenty not to like about both the North Korean government and the Chinese communist party, but that doesn’t translate well into making blanket jokes about all Korean or Chinese people.
Leno is far from the only celebrity to do this and it’s yet another example of how liberal culture has regularly treated Asians as a “different class of minority” than African-Americans or Hispanics. It’s been a very long time since a comedian could get away with making jokes about Black people. (Unless you were Chris Rock, Richard Pryor or some other Black comedian yourself.) But going for laughs at the expense of Asians always seemed to be given a pass. Does everyone recall the whole “ching chong” flap that finally forced Rosie O’Donnell to issue an apology? That was probably the first time such a walk back took place. Before then it just seemed to be accepted.
But with all of that said, I’ll return to the question I posed at the top. Why would Jay Leno be doing this now? Did MANAA request the conference call or did Leno? I’ve been looking around and I don’t see any reports of Jay doing recent standup acts where he was knocked for making discriminatory jokes, so this seems to have come out of the blue.
The answer might be found in the announcement that Leno is returning to television this fall to host a game show. The current woke environment in this country is particularly toxic right now and cancel culture is hunting down targets right and left. Since MANAA had already been complaining about Leno for years, they could have seen his new show as an opportunity to demand that Fox scrap the project. By issuing a preemptive apology and having MANAA accept it, Leno (and his manager) probably assume that they’ve defused the situation and avoided having a media IED blow up below their feet.
But will the apology be enough? Leno is primarily a leftist Hollywood figure, so he’ll probably be getting a pass. If Ron White were to try this, no amount of groveling would win him a reprieve. Of course, Ron White has never given a hoot about what other people think, so I don’t expect to see that happening.