Former Tonight Show host Jay Leno is apologizing for years of offensive jokes about Asians, acknowledging his "legitimate wrong."
Leno offered his apology on a Zoom call with the leader of the activist group Media Action Network for Asian Americans, which has complained about the comedian's jokes for over a decade, Variety reports.
"At the time I did those jokes, I genuinely thought them to be harmless," Leno said. "I was making fun of our enemy North Korea, and like most jokes, there was a ring of truth to them."
Leno in 2019 came under fire after it was reported that he made a joke while serving as an America's Got Talent judge about Koreans eating dog meat, which was cut from the show, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He had made similar jokes numerous times in the past, and the Media Action Network for Asian Americans at the time called on NBC to cut ties with Leno because he has "been an unrepentant repeat offender and still has a bizarre fixation with Asians eating dogs."
Leno now says that "too many times" in the past, he sided with those who dismissed complaints about his jokes, even when "in my heart I knew it was wrong." His apology came amid an uptick of anti-Asian hate crimes and discrimination in the United States, and a week after a shooting in Georgia left eight people dead, including six Asian women.
"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 said. "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."