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By Todd Peterson
Updated February 18, 2004 11:16 AM
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Ultimately, the criticism seemed too big to ignore, so late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien did what he knows best: He issued an apology — in the form of a joke.

On Tuesday’s show the comedian read a statement intended to quell some of the controversy sparked during a skit by Triumph the Insult Comic Dog taped last week in Toronto. The clip featured the trash-talking puppet in Quebec poking fun at French-Canadians citizens, which some Canadian officials decried as racist.

During Tuesday’s show, O’Brien read from a statement that was then delivered in French with English subtitles, for the benefit of the French-speaking residents of Quebec. O’Brien began: “People of Quebec, I’m sorry.” As the line was recited in French, the subtitles read: “People of Quebec, I’m an albino jackass.”

Other self-deprecating apologetic statements from O’Brien, such as “We meant no harm with our comedy piece the other night,” were delivered in French as “The other night, I wet the bed like a little girl.”

The dustup began Thursday following a skit in which Triumph hurled insults at citizens of Quebec during a visit to the city. The puppet suggested French-speaking Quebecers “learn to speak English,” among other things.

The issue of Quebec sovereignty and the rights of its French-speaking population is a sensitive subject among Canadians, and the skit drew increasing criticism from politicians who suggested that the government seek reimbursement for the $1 million Canadian ($760,000) subsidy it spent to bring the NBC show to Toronto.

Conan O’Brien’s “Late Night” was supposed to help boost Toronto’s suffering tourism economy after last year’s SARS outbreak.