Jay Leno has apologised for jokes he has made in the past which targeted Asian people.
The former late-night host issued the apology on Wednesday in a joint press release (first published by Variety) with the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), an advocacy group that monitors portrayals of Asian American people.
“At the time I did those jokes, I genuinely thought them to be harmless,” Leno said according to the release, which was later sent to The Independent. “I was making fun of our enemy North Korea, and like most jokes, there was a ring of truth to them.”
He added: “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.”
According to the release, Aoki originally secured a call with Leno after he was named host of an upcoming reboot of the game show You Bet Your Life. Aoki told The Independent he and Leno worked on the press release together.
“I do not consider this particular case to be another example of cancel culture but a legitimate wrong that was done on my part,” Leno added in the release. “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.”
The Independent has contacted Leno’s representatives for more information.
Rob Chan, MANAA’s president, said: “I’m happy that Jay came around, and that we will be working together in the future. 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.”
The release comes amid an increase in anti-Asian violence in the US. According to preliminary data examined by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 145 per cent in 16 of America’s largest cities in 2020, with the first spike occurring at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, six Asian women were killed during a shooting that left eight people dead in Atlanta, Georgia.