Prior to his retirement from late-night hosting in 2014, Jay Leno was an essential part of our evening routine, a reason to stay up late to see who would appear to crack jokes with him on his show, the long-running The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Now, Leno has come forward to apologize for decades of racist jokes.
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.
It seems like Jay Leno is genuinely sorry for the harm he did to the Asian American community. And now that he has made an official, public apology, healing can hopefully begin and people can move forward feeling respected and valued.
Jay Leno’s jokes usually appeared in his opening monologue to the audience, in which he introduced that night’s show, hinted at the guests who were scheduled to appear, threw shade at certain people, and just generally helped viewers settle into their beds to laugh and send themselves to sleep on a good note. Apparently, these “good-natured” monologues were opportunities for casual racism. It is a good thing these are products of the past, and it is even better that Leno’s offensive jokes are also probably things of the past now. There is no place for that in today’s society, nor should there be. Honestly, there was not a place for it in yesterday’s world, either, but people made a place for it.
On that same note, Jay Leno’s comments reflect a welcome shift in what is considered acceptable behavior, a distancing from the hurtful jokes and stereotypes that made-and continue to make- life exponentially more difficult for marginalized groups. We still have quite a ways to go when it comes to abolishing racism completely, It seems that while he did perpetuate these damaging, derogatory ideas, he now seems to feel remorseful for the way he spoke and acted toward these groups. It is unclear if he felt compelled to say something because of last week’s Atlanta killings, but one thing is clear: Leno is ready to move on from racist jokes, and it is about time.
From Gina Carano’s firing over controversial social media posts and now to Jay Leno’s apology, it seems that tolerance for intolerance is beginning to crumble, and that is an incredibly positive thing. I’m glad Leno is seeing that words -especially his words – have weight.
These days, Jay Leno can be found writing his regular column for Popular Mechanics as well as his occasional pieces for The Sunday Times. He may not be a late-night host anymore, but he has found joy in other things, like his huge car collection and writing about his huge car collection.
Now, Jimmy Fallon is in the seat Jay Leno occupied for so long, and we will leave whether or not he is a better host up to you.