Jay Leno recently appeared as a guest on Bill Maher's podcast, "Club Random," where he discussed swearing off anti-trans jokes on The Tonight Show after a staffer complained.
"When I got The Tonight Show, I hired the best producer I could, the best director, who I thought were the best writers," said Leno. "I gave them contracts on a yearly basis, not 13 weeks. I said, 'Do the best you can.' We had the same crew for 22 years. When they would tell me the show sucked, I would go, 'Why’d it suck?' And they'd tell me why it sucked."
Maher then interrupted to ask Leno if he would let even lower-ranking staff "say that to you." Leno said yes, that it wasn't only high-ranking staff whose criticisms he took to heart.
"My theory was anybody can pull the cord and stop the train," said Leno. "I remember one time we had a guy in the basement who I didn't know. I had done at the time a transgender joke, and I heard this guy was really hurt about it. So I go down to see him and he explained the situation."
Leno told Maher that he apologized after hearing that the joke was hurtful and added, "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 continued. "He was so taken by the fact that he could bring this show to a screeching halt because of his one complaint. [He] turned out to be the greatest lighting guy or sound guy, whatever he did, that we had."
Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais have both recently come under fire for doubling down on anti-trans jokes after the trans community expressed the ways in which those jokes are both hurtful and dangerous.
Deena ElGenaidi's writing has been featured in Nylon, MTV News, Insider, The AV Club, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @deenaelg.