Two Asian American advocacy groups are calling on NBC to condemn and cut all further ties with comedian Jay Leno after reports of a racist joke he allegedly made during production on America's Got Talent surfaced. After Gabrielle Union was fired from the show, it was reported that one of the concerns she voiced to producers centered on a joke Leno made. The joke was edited out of the episode after Union said it would be offensive to air it.
"Jay Leno is a repeat offender in denigrating a part of our Asian American community and it must stop," John C. Yang, the president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said in a statement to Variety.
Yang and Guy Aoki, founding president of Media Action Network for Asian Americans, both pointed to Leno's frequent jokes about Asians. Yang cited Leno's joke about a Korean skater eating his dog after losing a race at the 2002 Olympics and called these jokes "so toxic because it is intended to minimize a community and somehow make that community seem less civilized."
"We applaud Gabrielle Union for not only calling out Leno’s behavior for what it is, but also more importantly for her willingness to stand up for a fellow community of color," Yang added.
Aoki said Leno has a "bizarre fixation with Asians eating dogs," and hopes to see NBC end the CNBC series Jay Leno's Garage.
"It took two conference calls, countless meetings with NBC executives, even admonishment from a high ranking NBC executive and two advertiser campaigns to get Jay Leno to stop after 10 years. Given that after all this time, Leno has been an unrepentant repeat offender," Aoki said. "MANAA is asking NBC to end its business relationship with him."
NBC has not responded to either statement.
NBC surprisingly announced that first-time judges Union and Julianne Hough would not be returning for AGT's 2020 season late last month. Days later, Variety reported that Union's ousting came after she repeatedly complained about a "toxic" work environment. One incident came at the NBCUniversal lot in Los Angeles, where Leno filmed a special interstitial segment.
After Leno saw a painting of Simon Cowell with his dogs, Leno reportedly joked that the dogs looked like something a person would find "on the menu at a Korean restaurant," sources told Variety.
Several people at the show thought it was offensive, including one of the "very few Asian staffers" at the show who was present when Leno made the joke. Union asked producers to report the joke to human resources and believed they needed to understand why the joke could be seen as offensive. Insiders said the issue was never reported to human resources though, and the joke did not air.
Leno has not faced any repercussions over the incident and has been relatively quiet since Union was fired. Last week, he told the paparazzi Union is a "great girl" and he "really enjoyed working with her." When asked if he thought Union was treated fairly, Leno replied, "I don't know, but I think she's a great girl."
"We had a lengthy 5-hour, and what I thought to be, productive meeting yesterday," Union tweeted. "I was able to, again, express my unfiltered truth. I led with transparency and my desire and hope for real change."
Photo credit: Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for SiriusXM