One of the funniest things I ever saw Billy Crystal do was imitate a Chinese waiter trying to perform Crystal’s “you look mahvelous” routine. Crystal did this on the Today show back in the late ’80s, or so I recall. I know that Bryant Gumbel thought it was drop-dead hilarious. Whenever I think of Crystal I think of three things: (a) Muhammud Ali imitation, (a) Chinese waiter doing “mahvelous” and (c) Crystal explicitly saying “axed” instead instead of “asked” in Analyze This.

I’m fairly certain we’ll never see Crystal do the Chinese waiter routine ever again, especially in the wake of the just-reported Jay Leno apology over the same kind of material.

Variety‘s Matt Donnelly is reporting that the former Tonight Show host, comedian and expensive-vehicle owner (who occasionally shops at WeHo Pavilions) has formally apologized for years of telling Asian-American jokes.

In the wake of the recent Atlanta massage-parlor shootings, which don’t necessarily appear to have been driven by racial hate (at least according to Andrew Sullivan), Leno decided upon a “better safe than sorry” posture.

And who could blame him or Guy Aoki, the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) guy who’s been after Leno to apologize for years?

“At the time I did those jokes, I genuinely thought them to be harmless,” Leno said in a joint press release with Aoki. “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,” Leno explained. “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.”

Eddie Murphy used to tell Asian-waiter jokes; ditto Richard Pryor.