Former “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno knows comedy, having started in stand-up way back in the early 1970s.
But Leno says the recent emergence of cancel culture has changed the rules of comedy.
During an appearance this week on the “People Every Day” podcast, the 71-year-old comedian said those who hope to succeed nowadays will have to adapt.
“I think it’s like any other thing, you either change or die,” Leno told host Janine Rubenstein, according to Fox News.
Leno said he has to update his comedy routine, comparing his changes to the evolution of an athlete.
“In football, you have certain rules,” he said. “And when the rules change, if you don’t conform to them, you’re out of the game.”
Leno said sexist, racist, and homophobic jokes were once considered OK, but all that has changed.
“Now, everybody has a voice,” he said. “You have to change the material to the times you live in.”
“My attitude is, ‘Look, these are the new rules,’” Leno added. “You want to adapt. If you don’t, fine. Don’t get up and tell jokes then.”
Leno was criticized earlier this year for jokes about Asians he told in the past, prompting him to apologize.
“At the time I did those jokes, I genuinely thought them to be harmless,” Leno said in a statement, according to Variety. “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. 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,” he said.
“I am issuing this apology,” Leno added. “I do not consider this particular case to be another example of cancel culture but a legitimate wrong that was done on my part. MANAA has been very gracious in accepting my apology. I hope that the Asian American community will be able to accept it as well, and I hope I can live up to their expectations in the future.”
But in May, comedian and actor Seth Rogen dismissed the risks posed to comedians by “cancel culture.”
“There are certain jokes that for sure have not aged well, but I think that’s the nature of comedy,” Rogen said in an interview with “Good Morning Britain.” “I think conceptually those movies are sound, and I think there’s a reason they’ve lasted as far as people still watching and enjoying them today. Jokes are not things that necessarily are built to last.”
“To me when I see comedians complaining about this kind of thing, I don’t understand what they’re complaining about. If you’ve made a joke that’s aged terribly, accept it. And if you don’t think it’s aged terribly, then say that,” he added.
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