Jay Leno's used to riffing on the headlines, not making them. But after days of being battered for a comedy routine gone awry, the late-night kingpin has issued a mea culpa.
The Tonight Show host issued a statement Tuesday saying he was sorry for making a series of gay jokes at the expense of guest Ryan Phillippe last week.
"In talking about Ryan's first role, I realize that what I said came out wrong. I certainly didn't mean any malice. I agree it was a dumb thing to say and I apologize."
Leno drew the ire of the gay community for his interview with Phillippe on Thursday's Tonight Show. The actor, attempting to plug his latest film, Stop-Loss, wound up getting grilled by Leno about his first role on the soap One Life to Live, playing a gay teenager.
"Say that camera is your gay lover," Leno prompted: "Can you give me your gayest look? Say that camera is Billy Bob [Thornton]—Billy Bob has just ridden in shirtless from Wyoming."
The remarks made Phillippe visibly uncomfortable.
"Wow," the 33-year-old actor replied. "That is so something I don't want to do. Are you just going to embarrass me tonight?"
"No," said Leno. "I got more stuff. This is the least of it."
The backlash was immediate.
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation blasted the remarks as "a misguided use of adolescent humor."
"We are proud of Ryan for refusing to participate in Leno's thoughtless attempt at humor," GLAAD president Neil G. Giuliano said in a statement. "Under the guise of comedy, the talk show host is demonstrating a lack of respect for the gay community and insensitivity to both his coworkers and the audience, to whom he owes an apology."
And Tony-winning Avenue Q playwright Jeff Whitty lashed out at Leno in a blog entry, accompanied by a photo of Whitty's "gayest look"—a shot of him giving Leno the bird. The playwright then encouraged others to do the same.
"Would you ask a guest to make their 'blackest face?' Their 'Jewiest face?' "
Whitty's call to arms (or, more aptly, middle fingers) inspired the launch of the website My Gayest Look, in which users have posted similar pics targeting Leno.
Which are not printable here.