In a joint press conference with Guy Aoki, leader of the activist group Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), Leno explained that since he considered those jokes to be harmless at the time, the comedian frequently spurned anyone who was critical of his brand of humor.
“At the time, there was a prevailing attitude that some group is always complaining about something, so don’t worry about it,” Leno said. “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.”
“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,” Leno said. His apology comes in wake of widespread anti-Asian violence across the U.S. which garnered national attention following the racially-motivated shootings at three massage parlors in Atlanta last week.
It was the latest in what has become an alarming uptick of people targeting the Asian community. The Hollywood Reporter points out that the first recent uptick of violence against Asian people was in March and April of 2020, which coincides with the spread of COVID-19 and the rhetoric used by the former president that attempted to create an association between the coronavirus and Chinese people generally.
Leno drew the ire of people on the set of the show America’s Got Talent last year for a joke where he perpetuated stereotypes about Asian people eating dog meat. Leno has been known to revisit this particular stereotype, prompting Aoki to confront Fox, the company behind the comedian’s new game show You Bet Your Life, which he’s hosting, and issue an ultimatum of firing the host or MANAA approaching sponsors to boycott the project. Aoki’s actions ultimately led to a meeting with Leno.