Jay Leno helmed ‘The Tonight Show’ for 21 super successful years on NBC, during which he led the ratings race over chief competitor David Letterman. Now, the iconic comedian who still performs stand up about 200 times a year answers 5 key questions.
1. What’s something that we don’t know about you?
Jay Leno: I’m wearing women’s panties right now (laughs)….I mean I can’t think of anything, most people feel that they have to have the public know this or — oh, God — showbiz can be a little embarrassing…
2. Do you think we will ever get a woman to host one of the big three networks’ late night shows?
Jay: Well, we got Chelsea Handler…well, we got Samantha Bee, and I think we don’t really have big networks anymore. I mean, you got Netflix, which gets a bigger audience than anybody. I mean, the idea that there is a Channel 4 and a Channel 7…I mean, when I talk to young people now they talk about Channel 358, Channel 692. So to me its totally…I mean your seeing it and Samantha Bee is probably the best example right now, she’s terrific.
3. How has comedy changed over the years? Is it different today in 2017 than when you were getting started?
Jay: Comedy doesn’t change a whole lot — you know when you watch a Rudolph Valentino love story from the 20s its almost interminable. You can’t sit through it because it is so long and drawn out. When you watch [Charlie] Chaplin or [Buster] Keaton from the 20s it is really just as funny as it was then, even more funny so because of the clothes and the cars and all that kind of stuff. But comedy is bang bang bang, that part of it doesn’t really change. What I do is about as primitive; it’s basic human communication with the exception of a microphone there is nothing technical about it, you are just talking to people and there seems to be a bit of a resurgence because so many kids grew up with the iPhone thing, or they watch it on their computers and then they get into a club where it’s intimate.
The difference between looking through the window of a night club and hearing it and being on the other side of it, of the window and in the room. It is like night and day. There is a whole energy that is in there. To me it is not a big change, the only thing different is probably attention spans. Attention spans have changed. You watch Newhart on The Tonight Show from the 60s or 70s. He’ll take a minute and a half to tell a story. Now if you don’t get a laugh in the first 20 seconds, people are like, “He’s bombing, He’s bombing!” The attention spans, you do have to move fairly quickly but other than that there is not much difference…because of the clothes and the cars and all that kind of stage. But comedy is bang, bang, bang.
4. Which comics do you like to hang out with?
Jay: Well, you know the sad part is we always used to sit around: Billy Crystal, me, and Robin [Williams], and you know when you lose somebody like Robin, then you go, “Robin is one of those guys that would be fun to be 80 years old with and just sit around and reminisce about all the stupid times and all that kind of thing.” You know, so that’s really the only regret when you lose a comic like that, a real brilliant talent and a funny guy.
5. Is it true that your mother kept you from ever acting like a big shot?
Jay: My mother when I got The Tonight Show — it was initially The Tonight Show starring Jay Leno, which had my mother go, “Oh starring Jay Leno, oh mister big shot, starring Jay Leno…” So I said to my Ma that I would change it to The Tonight Show with Jay Leno just so I wouldn’t be mister big shot! New England is so oddly quirky, like when I was on the cover of Time magazine I called my mother, and I said, “Hey Mom, I am on the cover of Time magazine.” And she was like, “what?” So I was like, ”I am on the cover of Time magazine! You got to buy it.”
She was like,”okay.” I said to her, “call Uncle Frank in New York and tell Aunt Faye in New Jersey that I am on the cover. Then there was a big long pause and she goes, “I think they put you on the covers that they sell around here because they know you are from Andover! I don’t think you are on the cover down there…” I’m like, “Mom, I’m on the cover everywhere,” and she goes, “I don’t think so!” I was like, “what do you mean I don’t think so! You don’t know anything about publishing Mom, they don’t just put me on the ones that they sell in Andover, Massachusetts.” We used to have these ridiculous arguments.
You can catch episodes of Jay Leno’s Garage Wednesdays at 10:00pm ET on CNBC, returning in June 2017, or one of his weekly videos on YouTube! And of course when he returns to a Carnival cruise for Carnival Live!