Leno Laments Late-Night
March 13th, 2019 – Former Tonight Show host Jay Leno got Twitter, and the President, buzzing after sharing that he doesn’t miss the world of late-night due to its focus on one-sided politics. As Leno sat down with fellow NBC personalities during the third hour of the Today show, he focused on how the issue of crafting material has changed.
With twenty years of late night joke-telling, and a very public battle in 2010 to re-gain the Tonight Show gig after handing it over to Conan O’Brien, some thought Leno would miss the job. Al Roker asked him pointedly during the interview if he would like to return.
“No, it’s different. I don’t miss it. You know, everything now is, if people don’t like your politics, they — everyone has to know your politics,” Leno replied.
The throwback to Johnny Carson, who hosted the show from 1962-1992, quickly got brought up as Leno compared their approaches to comedy.
“I kind of used Johnny’s model. People couldn’t figure out. ‘Well, you and your Republican friends’ or ‘Well, Mr. Leno, you and your Democratic buddies.’ And I would get hate mail from both sides equally, and I went ‘Well that’s fabulous. That’s exactly what I want.'”
Carson’s middle-of-the-road style gets referenced often when people critique the more opinionated comedy seen in today’s late night landscape. He’s an easy go-to when longing for simpler times, but his moments of nuance in the political arena are documented for those who want to find them.
In 1974, at the height of the Watergate investigation, Carson invited journalist Jack Anderson onto the Tonight Show for a 20-minute discussion on the allegations of obstruction of justice and the failure of those in governmental leadership to speak up.
“I’ll probably be accused by people now of being the eastern liberal establishment, and I have made jokes about what is happening – I hope not unfairly. But just trying to make humor about what has happened. But that is considered, when you do that, almost un-American,” Carson said at the time.
Stepping outside of the Carson argument, Leno went on to say that working in late-night today would be tough due to his inability to be one-sided as well as the lack of escalation in joke structure.
“But when people see you as one-sided, it just makes it tough,” Leno, 68, continued. “And plus, I did it when, you know, Clinton was horny and [George W.] Bush was dumb, and it was just a little easier.”
“Now it’s all very serious,” he said. “I’d just like to see a bit of civility come back to it, you know? People say, ‘Oh, it must be easy to do jokes with Trump.’ No, it’s actually harder because the punchline of the joke used to be ‘That’s like the president with a porn star.’ Well, now the president is with a porn star. Where do you go with that? How do you get more outrageous than that?”
President Trump apparently didn’t hear the part about being a walking punchline, but he did listen to Fox & Friends talk about Leno expressing distaste in how late-night has changed. He used the sound bites to further his ongoing feud with the media.
“Jay Leno points out that comedy (on the very boring late night shows) is totally one-sided. It’s tough when there’s only one topic.” @foxandfriends Actually, the one-sided hatred on these shows is incredible and for me, unwatchable. But remember, WE are number one – President!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2019
Trump has complained about late-night comedy, usually his impersonation by Alec Baldwin on Saturday Night Live, for the past three years. At times, he has even called for the content to be legally investigated and suggested that it was, in fact, the real collusion. The former reality star has also previously stated that Leno and his Tonight Show “sucked.”
Nothing funny about tired Saturday Night Live on Fake News NBC! Question is, how do the Networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution? Likewise for many other shows? Very unfair and should be looked into. This is the real Collusion!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2019
A REAL scandal is the one sided coverage, hour by hour, of networks like NBC & Democrat spin machines like Saturday Night Live. It is all nothing less than unfair news coverage and Dem commercials. Should be tested in courts, can’t be legal? Only defame & belittle! Collusion?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 16, 2018
I’ve always defended @jayleno but he never defends me. He’s not a loyal person & I now understand why everybody dumped him. Jay sucks!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 4, 2013
Jay Leno and his people are constantly calling me to go on his show. My answer is always no because his show sucks. They love my ratings!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2013
Do you agree with Jay Leno that the world of late-night comedy has become too aligned with the personal political beliefs of the host?