By now, controversies over comedians telling jokes about trans people have begun to follow a well-worn pattern.
First, trans people object, then the comedian doubles down, then other comedians and the far-right back them up by saying some variation of "you can't joke about anything anymore," wash, rinse, repeat.
But comedian and former The Tonight Show host Jay Leno is an exception to what has become something of a rule of late.
During an appearance on Bill Maher's podcast "Club Random with Bill Maher," Leno explained how a staffer's reaction to one of his trans jokes made him understand the problem, and inspired him to vow to never tell such a joke ever again.
Jay Leno told Maher about the incident while discussing what he says has been the key to his success: "shutting up and listening" whenever he realized he might not be the "smartest person in the room."
This led him to hire what he called "brutally honest" staff for The Tonight Show's writers room during his 20 year tenure.
As he explained to Maher:
"When they would tell me the show sucked, I would go, ‘Why’d it suck?’ And they’d tell me why it sucked."
Leno's policy of listening to criticism apparently applied to crew members too, because when a technician criticized Leno for a joke about trans people he once told, he changed Leno's mind forever.
“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 then promised the technician he would never again include jokes about trans people in his act, which Leno said had a huge impact on the staff member.
"He was so taken by the fact 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."
You can watch the exchange below:
Jay Leno | Club Random with Bill Maher youtu.be
On Twitter, many applauded Leno for his self-awareness and openness to changing his act.
\u201c@HPANA @PinkNews That's good. Too many comedians these days are blaming everyone else for their bad actions\u201d— PinkNews (@PinkNews) 1659542701
\u201cAnyone who thinks it\u2019s cool to give Chapelle stage/air time? Read this. \n\nJay Leno Stopped Joking About Trans People Over a Tonight Show Staffer \u2013 The Hollywood Reporter https://t.co/BUGhsz5R8G\u201d— its still a Pandemic, folks! (@its still a Pandemic, folks!) 1659496752
\u201cThe contrast between Leno and Maher is so stark. I'm not sure why anyone considers Bill Maher at all liberal anymore. He's right of center at this point, and he's a jerk, to boot. But kudos to Jay Leno for showing compassion.\u201d— Kagan MacTane (he/him) (@Kagan MacTane (he/him)) 1659545529
\u201cRead this article and think what you want about him but seriously this attitude is not prevalent enough.\u201d— Jenigorgon Rex | spooky season citizen (@Jenigorgon Rex | spooky season citizen) 1659526091
\u201cHey, look, a celebrity comedian handling criticism the way they should. Good on Jay! https://t.co/JJIPYTQTSM\u201d— Dibble / Zazu (@Dibble / Zazu) 1659506840
\u201cNice to see a comedian with some concept of social responsibility https://t.co/zSYFt7TDfW\u201d— Adam\ud83e\uddc2\ud83c\udf3b\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6 (@Adam\ud83e\uddc2\ud83c\udf3b\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6) 1659495361
\u201cWell, good for Jay Leno here. He was in a position where he didn't have to listen and chose to listen anyway, and change his actions accordingly. \n\nhttps://t.co/CKcPB5oY6I\u201d— John Scalzi (@John Scalzi) 1659489922
\u201c@scalzi Love to see it. \n\nAny comedian not trying to make Carlin proud of them is doing it wrong.\u201d— John Scalzi (@John Scalzi) 1659489922
\u201c@scalzi What a prime example of \u201cwhen you know better do better.\u201d He listened, genuinely apologized, and made adjustments accordingly. This is how we should address conflict and complaints\u201d— John Scalzi (@John Scalzi) 1659489922
For his part, Maher responded to Leno's story with a joke about transgender people of his own. Maher has frequently made statements about transgender and LGBTQ+ people that the community has decried as transphobic.