Culture

Jay Leno Apologizes for Jokes About One Ethnic Group Out of Many

AP Feed

Over the last few weeks, there’s been a moral panic about anything that could possibly be perceived as an insult against Asian-Americans. After a gunman in Atlanta shot six Asian people (and two non-Asian people, but whatever) and several anti-Asian street attacks across the country went viral (except when the assailants weren’t white, but whatever), everybody’s been on the lookout for villains to cancel for making mean jokes. Because obviously, nothing bad would ever happen to an Asian person if nobody ever made jokes about Asian people.

Last week the new editor of Teen Vogue, Alexi McCammond, resigned before her first day at work, after her own colleagues dug up some of her decade-old tweets making Asian jokes. And now, a professional comedian is getting out ahead of his old Asian jokes before he gets cancelled too.

Matt Donnelly, Variety:

Late-night host and comedian Jay Leno has issued an apology for a series of jokes told over his career targeting Asian communities.

The apology comes after a nearly 15-year campaign from the activist group Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) for remarks as recent as Variety‘s 2020 report that Leno cracked about Koreans eating dog meat — a complaint that offended numerous players on the set of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”

“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… “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.”

Here’s the thing, though: Koreans actually do eat dog meat! The consumption of dogs was legal in South Korea until 2018. It’s a thing that happened, and presumably still happens, in Korea. Why is that off-limits for jokes? How are those jokes guilty of anything except making a few people angry?

The consumption of dog meat is so commonplace in Asia that Barack Obama bragged about it in one of his various autobiographies, and nobody blinked an eye until his presidential campaign (with the eager assistance of the media) decided to turn Romney’s dog into a campaign issue. Then some miserable blogger dug up that factoid about Obama and turned it into a whole thing.

Ethnic jokes are just a fact of life in a melting pot like America. I’m Irish and I’ve heard jokes about alcoholism, the IRA, Lucky Charms, and foul-smelling soap my whole life. You know what? It’s fine! Some of the jokes are even funny. And if they’re not… who cares? It’s literally not hurting anybody.

And how in the world does Jay Leno bear any responsibility for violence against Asians, or anybody else for that matter? Did Jay Leno turn this Miami man into a racist?

Did Jay Leno convince this bigot that what he’s doing is right?

Did these violent racists become radicalized against Asians after hearing one too many Jay Leno jokes?

Jay Leno is guilty of nothing worse than being a lazy, overpaid hack. If you want to see him grovel for forgiveness, it should be for stealing Letterman’s spot on The Tonight Show.

Of course, Leno’s apology won’t keep people off his back. In 2019, a comedian named Shane Gillis was fired from Saturday Night Live, before he’d even appeared on a single episode, because of some Asian jokes. He apologized, but he got canned anyway. McCammond, the would-be Teen Vogue editor, also apologized for her Asian jokes, several times over the course of the past decade, and it didn’t do her any good either. An apology is just like blood in the water. It only stokes the frenzy.

Let this be a warning to you: Don’t make any jokes about eating dogs, or Jackie Chan, or being hungry an hour later, or anything that has to do with Asians. And whatever you do, don’t call COVID-19 “the Chinese virus” or “the Wuhan virus,” just because the virus indisputably originated in Wuhan, China. Just stop thinking about these things and feed the narrative, or you’ll be fed to it. The narrative has an insatiable appetite and will eat anyone or anything that stands in its way.

(Also, just because 10 white people were murdered in Boulder by a guy named Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, that doesn’t mean their race has anything to do with it. Uh, hello, they were white.)