Margaret Cho has forgiven fellow comedian Jay Leno for his anti-Asian jokes, most of which had perpetuated the racist stereotype that Asians consume dogs and cats.
What Leno did: Between 2002 and 2012, Leno, now 71, made at least nine jokes about Koreans or Chinese people eating dogs and cats, according to the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA). The group is a nonprofit dedicated to advocating “balanced, sensitive, and positive depiction and coverage of Asian Americans.”
- Leno’s fixation with the said joke reportedly persisted until April 2019, when he worked as a guest judge on the 14th season of “America’s Got Talent.” While filming, he allegedly joked that Simon Cowell’s pet dogs looked like something one would find “on the menu at a Korean restaurant.”
- The joke — which was allegedly made in the presence of an Asian staffer — upset former judge Gabrielle Union, who then “urged producers” to report him to human resources. However, the matter never reached the department and Union was subsequently fired for speaking about “problematic” situations, sources claimed.
- MANAA had sought an apology from Leno since 2002, but it was only in February when the comedian replied to express his regrets. Founder Guy Aoki also called out Leno in 2019 for being “an unrepentant repeat offender.”
- In a phone call with MANAA, Leno said he “genuinely thought” that his jokes were “harmless” when he made them. He pointed out that he was “making fun of our enemy North Korea, and like most jokes, there was a ring of truth to them.”
- The former “Tonight Show” host added that he mostly considered those offended as people who just can’t take a joke, “even when in my heart I knew it was wrong.” He apologized for believing this way, adding that he would be “deeply hurt and ashamed” if his words were used to incite the current rise in anti-Asian violence.
Why Cho is forgiving him: Leno said MANAA has “graciously” accepted his apology. In a new interview with Entertainment Weekly, Margaret Cho — who will appear on his CNBC show “Jay Leno’s Garage” — said she’s forgiving him as well.
- “I booked Jay quite a while ago. For him to step up and take responsibility is very meaningful. I’m so pleased with his response. I accept apologies,” Cho said.
- The 52-year-old comedian, who is Korean American, said that “Asian jokes go over my head” because she has heard so many already. “I do a noise-canceling thing with them,” she added.
- MANAA said they have helped Leno find an Asian American guest for the upcoming season of “Garage.” It’s unclear if this guest was Cho.