The Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) has been targeting comedian Jay Leno for almost 15 years and they finally got him this week.
Why? As Reuters reported, “between 2002 and 2012 Leno made at least nine documented jokes about Koreans or Chinese people eating dogs or cats,” MANAA alleged. Left unexplained was why the comedian highlighting a horrific practice in Asia was such a problem they needed a decades-long campaign.
But now Leno is joining with the activist group to issue an apology. Presumably this is coming because, as Variety put it, “Entertainment and media has been increasingly vocal about and horrified by a wave of anti-Asian violence in the U.S., which many attributed to Trump era rhetoric and blaming China for the spread of the coronavirus.” Yes, it’s true many in Hollywood are quick to attribute things like the Atlanta massage parlor murders to Trump, but it’s without any evidence.
In a world where correctly blaming China for the coronavirus is considered a racist hate crime, it only makes sense that jokes correctly calling out Asian countries for their consumption of dog meat would be, too.
Either way, Leno’s been feeling the heat and put out a statement that sounded more like a Maoist struggle session saying he knew his jokes were a “legitimate wrong:”
“At the time I did those jokes, I genuinely thought them to be harmless,” Leno said in a joint press release with MANAA leader Guy Aoki. “I was making fun of our enemy North Korea, and like most jokes, there was a ring of truth to them.”
Leno continued, “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.”
In light of that, Leno said, “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. 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.”
Variety also noted an incident in which Leno made a reference to the fact that dog meat is still commonly served in South Korea, which scandalized America’s Got Talent judge Gabrielle Union as “so wildly racist:”
While filming a commercial interstitial in the “AGT” offices, she says the former “Tonight Show” host made a crack about a painting of Cowell and his dogs, saying the animals looked like food items at a Korean restaurant. The joke was widely perceived as perpetuating stereotypes about Asian people eating dog meat.
Union dramatically recalled the encounter: “I was not prepared for his joke,” Union says. “I gasped. I froze.”
She went on:
“You cannot edit out what we just experienced. There is not an edit button in my brain or in my soul. To experience this kind of racism at my job and there be nothing done about it, no discipline, no companywide email, no reminder of what is appropriate in the workplace?” she says.
Lucky, Asia is now safe from Leno’s dog-eating jokes. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the safety of dogs in Asia.