Some comedians have been able to deal better with increased scrutiny from fans and media outlets in an era many have dubbed ‘Cancel Culture,’ and Jay Leno is one of them.
The former host of The Tonight Show has seen firsthand the changes in comedy with jokes on sexism, sexual harassment, and gay rights, among other topics, becoming more taboo. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Leno explained his thoughts on whatever restrictions may come with modern standup comedy.
“When I do a gig in Utah and they’ll go, ‘Look, we don’t want any drug jokes, we don’t want any sex jokes.’ I go, ‘OK, I’ll take those out’ and I do something else,” Leno said. “With the #MeToo movement, all of a sudden the sexist jokes everybody used to do, you can’t do anymore. So you either change with the times or you die. You adapt to the circumstances.”
Leno drew criticism for some of his jokes, especially ones involving Asian stereotypes. After repeated pleas, including a threat of a boycott of You Bet Your Life advertisers from Asian Pacific American Media Coalition founding member Guy Aoki, Leno contacted Aoki, Leno apologized for his repeated use of racist Asian stereotypes. He admitted that he often would ignore what he saw as legitimate complaints regarding his jokes despite knowing “in [his] heart it was wrong.”
Leno also said he empathized with Aoki and other marginalized communities who feel like they are always the butt of jokes because of his own Italian heritage. He recalled his father’s reaction to how Italian Americans were portrayed in The Untouchables TV show.
“The Italians always had their wife-beater shirt with the salami and the bottle of wine,” Leno said. “Everything was the Mafia and mob, and all Italians are crooks. It would just make my dad furious.”
Jay Leno will host a new version of You Bet Your Life, a game show in which contestants of different backgrounds team up to answer questions. The series is set to premiere on September 13th.