Leno Laments ‘One-Sided’ Late Night ‘Politics,’ Calls for ‘Civility’

Appearing on the third hour of NBC’s Today show on Tuesday, former Tonight Show host Jay Leno lamented how “everyone has to know your politics” now if you’re a late-night comedian. He mentioned that he prided himself on not letting viewers know his political views and feared that many comedians have become too “one-sided” when it comes to politics.

“It’s been five years since you left The Tonight Show, and you see the place we are right now in this country,” co-host Al Roker noted, wondering: “Do you miss being on the show, or is it such a different time that it would be hard to do?” Leno replied: “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.”

 

 

The comedian pointed out that during his tenure at The Tonight Show he followed the lead of his predecessor and “kind of used Johnny’s model” so that “people couldn’t figure out” his political leanings. “I would get hate mail from both sides equally,” Leno fondly recalled. He declared: “I went, well, that’s fabulous. That’s exactly what I want.”

Worrying about the current late-night environment, he warned: “But when people see you as one-sided, it just makes it tough.”

Leno joked that in his time “Clinton was horny and Bush was dumb, and it was just a little easier,” but that “now it’s all very serious.” He added: “I’d just like to see a bit of civility come back to it, you know?”

Moments later, co-host Sheinelle Jones asked: “Do you think the pendulum will swing back the other direction?” Leno predicted it would eventually: “Oh, of course, I think it will, I think it’ll swing back the other way, yeah.” He observed that part of the problem was how obsessed late-night comics are with political news:

Because, you know, the theory when we did the show was you just watch the news, we’ll make fun of the news, and get your mind off the news. Well, now people just want to be on the news all the time. You just have one subject that’s the same topic every night, which makes it – makes it very hard. I mean, all the comics, Jimmy and Colbert and everybody else, it’s tough when that’s the only topic out there.

“Dominates everything,” Roker commented. Leno agreed: “Exactly.”

The evidence of late-night comedians being obsessed with politics, particularly liberal politics, has been blatantly obvious in the Trump era, with CBS Late Show host Stephen Colbert, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel, and NBC’s Seth Meyers being the worst offenders. Even Leno’s usually non-political Tonight Show successor, Jimmy Fallon, has been pressured to join the anti-Trump resistance to bring in ratings.

Here is a transcript of the March 12 exchange during the Today show’s third hour:

9:27 AM ET

(...)

AL ROKER: It’s been five years since you left The Tonight Show, and you see the place we are right now in this country. Do you miss being on the show, or is it such a different time that it would be hard to do?

JAY LENO: 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. When I – I kind of used Johnny’s model, people couldn’t figure out. “Well, you and your Republican friends,” “Well, Mr. Leno, you and your Democratic buddies.” And I would get hate mail from both sides equally.

ROKER: That’s good.

LENO: And I went, well, that’s fabulous. That’s exactly what I want.

DYLAN DREYER: Yeah, it’s even.

LENO: But when people see you as one-sided, it just makes it tough. And plus, you know, I did it when, you know, Clinton was horny and Bush was dumb, and it was just a little easier. [Laughter]

You know, now it’s all very serious. Everything is just so – 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 punch line 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?! [Laughter] Exactly.

SHEINELLE: Do you think the pendulum will swing back the other direction?

LENO: Oh, of course, I think it will, I think it’ll swing back the other way, yeah. Because, you know, the theory when we did the show was you just watch the news, we’ll make fun of the news, and get your mind off the news. Well, now people just want to be on the news all the time.

JONES: That’s a good point.

LENO: You just have one subject that’s the same topic every night, which makes it – makes it very hard. I mean, all the comics, Jimmy and Colbert and everybody else, it’s tough when that’s the only topic out there.

ROKER: Dominates everything.

LENO: Exactly.

(...)

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