Emmy Award-winning American comedian and television host Jay Leno has apologised for on-air remarks he made during a chat with Ryan Phillippe that were then criticised by gay activists and others.

The 58 year old host caused offence when he asked the Hollywood heartthrob to give him his “gayest look.”

Phillippe started his acting career playing a gay character in hit US soap One Life To Live .

His character caused much controversy as it was the first time a gay teenager had been portrayed in a mainstream soap.

The joke received a cold response from the 33-year-old actor saying:

“Wow, that is so something I don’t want to do.”

“In talking about Ryan’s first role, I realize that what I said came out wrong,” said Jay Leno.

“I certainly didn’t mean any malice. I agree it was a dumb thing to say, and I apologise.”

Neil G. Giuliano, President of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) spoke out in support of Ryan’s handling of the situation:

“We are proud of Ryan for refusing to participate in Leno’s thoughtless attempt at humour.

“Under the guise of comedy, the talk-show host is demonstrating a lack of respect for the gay community and insensitivity to both his co-workers and the audience.”

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno is one of America’s highest rating shows, it is the third longest-running entertainment program in US television history.