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Jay Leno this morning attempted to put a positive spin on actress Gabrielle Union’s firing from the TV program, America’s Got Talent.
“I love Gabrielle Union, she’s a great girl. I really enjoyed working with her, she’s really good,” Leno said of Union, who is 47 years old, according to TMZ. Leno wouldn’t comment on whether Union was fired unfairly.
The 68-year-old comedian is in the hot seat after telling a racist wisecrack about Koreans when he was a guest judge on the show in April. According to a Variety report released last week, Leno said that a painting of executive producer Simon Cowell surrounded by his dogs looked like something one would find “on the menu at a Korean restaurant.” Four people heard Leno make the remark.
Leno wouldn’t answer when TMZ asked if he regretted making the comment.
Leno’s silence comes nearly a week after Variety detailed shocking reports of racism and a toxic environment on the set of America’s Got Talent. Union, a judge on the show’s 14th season, urged producers to report Leno to human resources for his joke, though it never escalated to their department, they report.
Union and dancer Julianne Hough were not asked to return for the show’s 15th season after the two expressed concerns over various racist comments made on the show—including Leno’s remark. Union had a three-year contract with the show.
According to Vulture, Cowell and his team of producers perceived Union as “difficult.” The two stars clashed when Union raised concerns about Cowell smoking inside the theater where the show filmed. (Union is allergic to cigarette smoke and it’s also against California law for an employer to allow smoking within an enclosed workspace.)
In addition, producers also reportedly made comments about both Union and Hough’s appearance, including calling Union’s hairstyles “too black.” Union also reportedly annoyed producers for asking contestants in drag what their preferred pronouns were.
According to Vulture, tensions reached an all-time high after producers told Union that America couldn’t get behind a 10-year-old Black rapper named Dylan Gilmer—who was later cut from the show.
“We remain committed to ensuring a respectful workplace for all employees and take very seriously any questions about workplace culture,” NBC and the companies behind America’s Got Talent, Fremantle and series creator Simon Cowell’s Sycothe said in a statement, according to Deadline. “We are working with Ms. Union through her representatives to hear more about her concerns, following which we will take whatever next steps may be appropriate.”
Alexandra Samuels is a political reporter at the Texas Tribune and contributor to the Daily Dot, where she started as an intern covering politics in the summer of 2016. She enjoys Marvel movies, baking, and reading murder-mystery novels.