Jay Leno allegedly suggested that Koreans have an appetite for canines, an archaic, racist stereotype some Asians still have to deal with to this day.
The 69-year-old comedian reportedly made the “joke” in an unreleased segment of the 14th season of “America’s Got Talent,” where he worked as a guest judge in April.
While filming in North Hollywood, Leno reportedly set his eyes on a painting, which shows executive producer and judge Simon Cowell with his dogs.
The guest judge then joked that Cowell’s pets looked like something one would find “on the menu at a Korean restaurant,” four sources present on the taping told Variety.
A source said that the joke was especially offensive to “the very few Asian staffers” of the NBC show, one of whom was present when Leno cracked it.
The guest judge also made the joke in the presence of Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough, whose recent exits as judges shed light on the show’s alleged “toxic culture.”
Union allegedly “urged producers” to report Leno to human resources for making the joke, with one NBC executive specifically hearing the issue.
However, the matter never reached the department.
— Jay Leno (@jayleno) August 5, 2019
Leno’s joke was eventually cut from the episode that aired on Aug. 6.
Some believe that Union — who had a three-year contract with NBC — was fired for calling out the incident, which happens to be only one of the alleged others.
In one incident, Union referred to a White male contestant from Italy as performing with “blackface hands” when he slipped on a pair of black gloves to do an impression of Beyoncé, sources told Vulture.
In another, judge Howie Mandel allegedly suggested that a South African choir made of Black members “sing something from ‘The Lion King.’”
Insiders claimed that both Union and Hough’s contracts could have been renewed, but NBC asserted that they have simply “rotated out.”
“‘America’s Got Talent’ has a long history of inclusivity and diversity in both our talent and the acts championed by the show. The judging and host line-up has been regularly refreshed over the years and that is one of the reasons for AGT’s enduring popularity,” the network said in a statement. “NBC and the producers take any issues on set seriously.”
Union has since received an outpouring of support from the public and other celebrities on social media, including Jameela Jamil, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ellen Pompeo, Debra Messing and Ariana Grande.
I am lucky to work with really good people at @nbc and am sad and angry to know this has been going on in that same network. I stand with @itsgabrielleu all the way. They should bring her back, with a big raise, and remove @SimonCowell instead. 🤙 https://t.co/ZDsmurRUd4
— Jameela Jamil 🌈 (@jameelajamil) November 28, 2019
Team @itsgabrielleu, always.
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) November 28, 2019
Workplace cultures will continue to be toxic until there is unity and solidarity among all women. If you go for self in these moments you undermine the work we are out here trying to do. Obviously this network feels like they can operate like this and it’s okay.
— Ellen Pompeo (@EllenPompeo) November 28, 2019
Thank you for this @EllenPompeo. This is disgusting behavior from a network that has been my professional home for decades. Yes, women become “difficult,” when their insistence on a respectful and professional working environment, is ignored. Addressing a hostile work https://t.co/gcI0nKLat0
— Debra Messing (@DebraMessing) November 28, 2019
— Ariana Grande (@ArianaGrande) November 28, 2019
Without addressing the specifics of her NBC exit, Union expressed gratitude to the support she’s been receiving:
So many tears, so much gratitude. THANK YOU! Just when you feel lost, adrift, alone… you got me up off the ground. Humbled and thankful, forever ❤
— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) November 28, 2019
Asian Twitter users thanked her in return:
as a Korean, thank you for helping us not feel so lost, adrift, alone when it comes to racial insensitivity. (; not sure if you realize how truly insulting and hurtful Korean-eating-dog jokes are… so thanks. 🤍
— Sarah Joy (@sselph7) November 28, 2019
It really meant a lot to have a black woman stand up for us, and it’s truly made me reexamine if I’m doing enough in standing up for racial injustice even when it doesn’t involve me personally.
— markamusREX (@MarkamusR) November 28, 2019
Thank you for speaking up in a toxic work environment & thank you for speaking up for the Asian community. I hope Asians will be better allies to black people like you’ve been to us.
— Jeannie (@JeannieBeanie99) November 28, 2019
As an Asian American, I truly thank you. I’ve always felt I had no voice in our society. We are grossly misrepresented and underrepresented. You’re a real one Ms Grabriel Union. You have my heartfelt gratitude ❤️
— Jesse Le 🧢 (@JesseLe88) November 28, 2019
Thank you for standing up and putting yourself on the line for others. Least we can do is show our love and find ways to stand with you.
— Vera Miao (@vivamiao) November 28, 2019
While Union has not spoken more on the developments, on Dec. 1, she commented “This! This! AND THIIISSSSSSS!!!!!!” on a Twitter post from freelance writer Joelle Monique on the steps to making a proper apology:
This! This! AND THIIISSSSSSS!!!!!! https://t.co/RCrtKtkQ4L
— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) December 1, 2019