Jay Leno Says Former 'Tonight Show' Staffer Is Why He Stopped Telling Transgender Jokes

Jay Leno Says Former ‘Tonight Show’ Staffer Is Why He Stopped Telling Transgender Jokes

Jay Leno shares a member’s reaction to his former Tonight’s show to a joke he made about transgender people led him to apologize and promise to never make transgender people the butt of his jokes again.

The former TV host and comedian shared the story while appearing as a guest on the latest episode of Random club with Bill Maher. The two had discussed his tumultuous history getting in and out late at night hosting gigs — including controversies involving David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O’Brien — when Maher began telling Leno he was “a victim of the terrible last prejudice in America: ageism.

“You have this idea in your head that you have to go to the pasture,” said the Real time the host continued. “As I speak to you, you’re the exact same guy who was there then, so I don’t think your brains are diminished.”

Leno responded by saying the way he sees himself and frames his roller coasters late at night is because he’s “a big believer in low self-esteem.”

“I think that’s the key to success because when you think you’re not the smartest person in the room, you just shut up and listen,” he said.

He says it helped him stay in control while hosting the show for more than two decades, with the former host turning to his own team to ensure he remained humble.

“When I got The show tonight, I hired the best possible producer, the best director, who I thought were the best writers. I gave them contracts on an annual basis, not 13 weeks. I said, ‘Do the best you can.’ We had the same crew for 22 years. When they told me the show sucked, I was like, “Why does that suck?” And they were telling me why it sucked.

When Maher chimes in to ask Leno if he’s referring to letting someone on his team as a blunderer “tell you that,” Leno confirms he’s listened to the thoughts of more than the rank creative team members. top of the show.

“My theory was that anyone could pull the cord and stop the train,” he says. “I remember one time when we had a guy in the basement that I didn’t know. I made a transgender joke at the time, and I heard this guy was really hurt about it. So I go down to see him and he explains the situation to me.

Leno says he listened to that staff member and said “I’m sorry” after hearing how hurtful it was. He then made a promise about his jokes going forward, noting that “here’s the thing: you’re only as good as your last joke.”

“I said you’ll never hear another transgender joke from me again,” Leno recalled. “He was so in awe of the fact that he could abruptly end this show because of his complaint alone. [He] turned out to be the greatest lighting or sound guy, whatever he did, that we’ve had.

“For me,” he concluded, “it worked for me.”

Leno previously apologized for making racist jokes targeting the Asian community throughout his career, including when asked to judge America’s Got Talent — remarks strongly criticized by the Asian community for years.

In a 2021 conversation with Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) leader Guy Aoki, Leno discussed his perpetuation of stereotypes about North Korea and Koreans, dismissing that it was “another example of cancel culture” and rather “a legitimate wrong that was done on my part.”

“Back then, there was a prevailing attitude that a band was always complaining about something, so don’t worry,” the comedian said. “Every time we received a complaint there were two sides to the discussion: either ‘We have to deal with it’ or ‘Aim at them if they can’t take a joke’. Too often I’ve taken the latter’s side, even though in my heart I knew it was wrong.


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