Comedian Jay Leno explained why he won’t ever tell another transgender joke again and said it has everything to do with a staffer on his former late-night show.
During the latest “Club Random with Bill Maher” podcast, Maher and the former host of NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” explained that a crew member had been hurt by a transgender joke he had told during a broadcast.
“When I got The Tonight Show, I hired the best producer I could, the best director, who I thought were the best writers,” the comedian explained. “I gave them contracts on a yearly basis, not 13 weeks. I said, ‘Do the best you can.’ And we had the same crew for 22 years.”
“When they would tell me the show sucked, I would go, ‘Why’d it suck?’ And they’d tell me why it sucked,” he added. “My theory was anybody can pull the cord and stop the train. You know, I remember one time we had a guy in the basement who I didn’t know. I had done at the time a transgender joke, and I heard this guy was really hurt about it. So I go down to see him and he explained the situation.”
“I said you know something, ‘I apologize,’ I say,” Leno continued. “I said you’ll never hear another transgender joke from me again. And he was so taken by the fact that he could bring this show to a screeching halt because of his one complaint. [He] turned out to be the greatest lighting guy or sound guy, whatever he did, that we had. But to me, that’s what worked for me. Here’s the thing: you’re only as good as your last joke.”
Leno previously stated that attacks against him for his past jokes about Asians weren’t “another example of cancel culture,” but instead “a legitimate wrong that was done on my part.”
“At the time I did those jokes, I genuinely thought them to be harmless,” Leno explained in a joint press release with Media Action Network for Asian Americans (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.”
“At the time, there was a prevailing attitude that some group is always complaining about something, so don’t worry about it,” he added. “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.”
“I am issuing this apology,” Leno continued. “I do not consider this particular case to be another example of cancel culture but a legitimate wrong that was done on my part.”