Jeff Lewis has issued an apology after he and his SiriusXM radio show guests made a number of racially insensitive comments about Asian Americans.
The former Flipping Out star, 49, began Thursday’s episode of Jeff Lewis Live by apologizing for his words and those of his radio companions — including fellow interior designer Megan Weaver, actor Doug Budin, Saturday Night Live alum Cheri Oteri, actress Monika Casey, and real estate agent Carrie Lewis.
“We love our Asian listeners and we would never want them to feel excluded,” Lewis said, in part. “We also never meant to spread hate or breed racism with our comments.”
“Apparently, I did incense a few people. I actually feel bad about it. I was joking around and it went a little too far,” he continued. “I apologize for being such an a——. I want people to have fun when they listen to this show . . . So I just wanted to apologize. I’m very sorry for crossing the line.”
On Tuesday and Wednesday’s episodes of the reality star’s radio show, the conversation around the deadly coronavirus outbreak in China turned ugly when apparent jokes were made by Lewis and his friends about steps they were taking to avoid catching the illness.
Those steps included isolating Asian American SiriusXM employees, refusing calls from Asian listeners, boycotting eateries like Panda Express and Chin Chin, and avoiding trips to areas with Asian communities or associations, such as Chinatown and Los Angeles’s TCL Chinese Theatre.
“There used to be three Asian American people working here, but Megan has locked them in the greenroom because she’s so concerned. She is so concerned, she has quarantined them,” Lewis joked of Weaver, on Tuesday’s show, adding that she didn’t even know where the employees might have family ties. “She has no idea and doesn’t care, she is so afraid of the coronavirus.”
Weaver went along with the bit, saying she was “terrified” and would not be eating at Panda Express “until this is all over.”
Her fears allegedly carried over to callers, Budin joked. “Megan was nervous like, ‘What if an Asian person calls into the show? We shouldn’t even take the call.’ “
“It’s too dangerous,” said Lewis, before joking that he had cancelled Jeff Lewis Live events in Wuhan, China, the city of 11 million where the outbreak reportedly originated.
“You can’t be too careful,” Weaver said, adding that she was nervous she’d been exposed because of a Chinese foot massage she had on Sunday. “He was very sick. He was really sick!”
The racially insensitive comments only escalated on Wednesday’s show, with Lewis “advising that we quarantine all Asian SiriusXM employes.”
“This would include Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Burmese, Filipino, Indonesian, etc.,” Lewis said. “I’m sure there’s more. That’s all we could think of. We’ll see how that goes.”
He went on to advise against traveling to Chinatown in Los Angeles, as well as the TCL Chinese Theatre — two popular tourist destinations.
He also made remarks about his experience with members of the Asian community while he was a student as the University of Southern California — claiming, “[in] my experience, the Asians were the biggest cheaters of all.”
“Now, I cheat too. I cheated, most of my friends cheated, but I’m just telling you what happened,” Lewis said. “In those classes, those Asians were the biggest cheaters. And I think cause they got the most pressure from their parents. My dad didn’t give a s—. I didn’t have a lot of pressure. But those kids, I blame the parents. Those kids were under so much pressure.”
“I was an English major, so there were no Asians in my class,” Carrie, Lewis’s sister-in-law, replied.
“It’s racist Wednesday, here at Jeff Lewis Live,” Lewis added.
Lewis ended his rant by blaming Asian people’s dietary habits for the spread of the virus.
“They’re saying the coronavirus, it’s a bat virus that then transmitted to snakes because snakes eat bats. The Chinese eat snakes, they eat all kinds of s— over there,” he said. “That’s probably why we’re in this trouble. Allegedly. They eat bats . . . mice. And then they wonder why they’re sick!”
In his apology on Thursday, Lewis said that he had come to the decision to apologize unprompted by his employer, SiriusXM.
“No one has told me to apologize yet. This was on my own,” he said. “I felt like I went a little too far.”
A representative for SiriusXM did not immediately reply to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
“I personally, truly, was kidding — was joking. Being sarcastic,” Lewis said. “I love all my listeners and I truly do not care about their ethnicity. I don’t care about their religious background. I don’t care about income level. I don’t care about their height. I don’t care if they’re three feet tall. I don’t care if they don’t have arms. I don’t care if they’re transitioning. I don’t care if they have special needs. I don’t care. I really don’t care. I just want to connect with people.”
Coronavirus is a blanket term for several respiratory illnesses, ranging from the common cold to more severe viruses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Symptoms typically include fever, cough, trouble breathing, headache and sore throat. For people who have severe cases, it can turn into pneumonia, SARS, and kidney failure and can result in death, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The U.S. State Department has raised their warning level to 4, the highest it has, and recommends Americans avoid all travel to China. It’s also issued its first federal quarantine in 50 years — holding a plane of American passengers arriving from Wuhan for 14 days. The Center for Disease Control has raised its warning level to 3, its highest, and declared a “public health emergency.”
So far, this outbreak has killed more than 200 people, with about 9,800 cases of the flu-like virus reported around the world as of Friday morning, according to The New York Times.