Jay Leno Tests Trump Material, Talks Cosby, Questions Kimmel's "Mean Streak"

"I think that's maybe why he hasn't achieved the success he'd like," Leno says of the ABC host, also lamenting the lack of late-night diversity.
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Jay Leno

Jay Leno was in familiar territory on Thursday morning when NBC kicked off its day in front of the Television Critics Association with a panel for the former Tonight host's new CNBC show.

And while reporters had a surprising amount of questions about Leno's famous fixation with cars, as showcased in Jay Leno's Garage, there were a few pointed inquiries about the current Donald Trump media circus, the latest round of late-night musical chairs, his recent comments about Jimmy Kimmel and the ongoing Bill Cosby drama.

"It's interesting watching this whole thing unfold," Leno said of Trump. "He and Jeb Bush are the frontrunners. … It's kind of like the race between the tortoise and the bad hair." [Editor's note: the original version of this story quoted Leno as saying "tortuous" — not "tortoise," which was clearly his intent.]

For anyone who's been missing Leno's monologues since his 2014 sign-off, he tossed out a few more cracks. "Trump had medical deferment [during Vietnam] … he had inter-rectum cranial inversion — which means his head is up his ass." Ba-dum chh!

Leno did offer more insightful commentary on the current late-night race. When asked what he thought of Stephen Colbert's upcoming arrival on CBS' Late Show, he said that he thought he'll be "terrific" before making a crack about the current landscape.

"The idea of a white guy in late night, this is revolutionary," he said, lamenting the absence of women and lack of racial diversity in the field.  "I'd love to see more diversity. Arsenio Hall really blew things open [in the '90s]. I don't know why we haven't had someone else come in, just for a different perspective."

Leno, who appeared on the first episode of James Corden's Late Late Show, did not indicate whether he'd be a guest on Colbert when he launches — "I'm kind of loyal to The Tonight Show and to Jimmy [Fallon]" — in part, seemingly, because he is very proud of the NBC show's No. 1 status.

"As long as it's No. 1 when you hand it over to the next guy, you've done your job," he said. "And Jimmy will keep it there."

Speaking of Jimmys (and competition), it was just Wednesday night that Leno gave an interview to TVInsider, saying he thought Jimmy Kimmel was talented but his comedy has a "mean streak." After his panel, Leno spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the comments — and did not change his tune.

"I think he's really funny and I think he's talented, I just think he has a bit of a mean streak," said Leno. "The best thing you can have in this job is kindness. That's the one thing you have to keep because this job makes you arrogant, it makes you think you're superior. Consequently, there's a tendency to nail the little guy. When I watch his thing where he takes the candy away from the kids at Halloween and they cry, I don't get that. That seems mean to me. I guess it's funny on some level. But on another level, it doesn't come from the heart. It comes from somewhere else. And I think that's maybe why he hasn't achieved the success he'd like to because I think he's just got a bit of a mean streak."

Before leaving the Beverly Hilton ballroom, Leno also touched on one hot-button issue: Bill Cosby and the critical mass of accusations of rape and sexual abuse levied against him in the last year.

"I don't know how you come out of there," said Leno. "I find it fascinating — how many accusers does he have now? 40? Well, 50 women come forward and people call them liars. And they go, 'Oh, you waited 40 years?' Men waited 50 years to say, 'A priest touched me,' and they got 7 million dollars. How come we believe them and we don't believe the women? It does seem awful sexist to me. … It does seem very unfair, and I'm surprised no one's ever made that analogy."

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