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At the very end of an interview at NATPE/Content First, Jay Leno was asked about whether he thought the Bill Cosby situation was sad. “I don’t know why it’s so hard to believe women,” he responded. “You go to Saudi Arabia, you need two women to testify against a man. Here you need 25.”
Leno, who is being honored Wednesday evening with a Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award at NATPE, spoke about Cosby in the context of how media has changed more than comedy.
“Stand-up is an art form that doesn’t really change,” Leno explained. “Comedy is pretty consistent. … The fat rich guy falling into the mud puddle has gotten laughs since the beginning of time.”
It is the ability of comics to deliver their message straight to a global audience that has changed, he explained: “Now comedy cuts through all the bullshit.”
Leno dated the beginning of the change to the Rodney King beating incident in 1991. “That’s the cool thing about the age we live in,” said Leno. “Rodney King was the first time we got the news unfiltered. But 10 years earlier the Rodney King story would have come to a news editor and he would have said, ‘Oh, this is too explosive to put on the air. Let’s just put on what the police say.’ But this went on TV raw. You saw what actually happened. And then a lot of times now with people they have to filter the story to suit sponsors or whatever it might be.
“I think this whole Cosby thing,” added Leno, “Hannibal Buress started it. He’s a stand-up comedian and he made a flat-out statement that reverberated around the world. If that had been on television, it would have been edited. But because somebody would put the news out raw and unfiltered — which I think is fantastic — it was a great thing.”
Leno said his retirement has been easier because he is a stand-up comedian and had that talent to fall back on.
When asked about the ill-fated 10 o’clock show he did for NBC five nights a week, Leno said, “I didn’t think it was going to work.”
So why did he do it?
“I came into work one day and they said, ‘Oh you’re being replaced.’ OK, I’m out. You can either throw a tantrum and act like they can’t do this show without me, or you can go, ‘There is nothing I can do about it. Alright fine.’
“Then when it came time to go,” added Leno, “NBC said, ‘Eh, we don’t want you to go. Everybody on The Tonight Show, all your writers, everybody, is on different contracts. … I have 175 people working for me. And they said, ‘We’ll pick up the salary for two years’ if I stay there. I said OK because everybody from The Tonight Show had been there a long time. … I like to keep the same people all the time … so I said I’ll do a 10 o’clock show, and we had a two-year guaranteed contract.
“The idea behind that show was we were never going to win primetime,” said Leno, “but when reruns came around we would be the only ones doing original programs and we would make money then. We did OK We did as well as we could have hoped.
“The thing that got me was — and I never saw this coming — suddenly scripted programmers were protesting: ‘Oh, Jay Leno you’re taking away our jobs.’ It never occurred to me that we would take away scripted. Suddenly there was a boycott, telling stars not to come on the show, whatever. So that’s another reason it didn’t work.”
Video of the interview can be seen below, with Leno’s segment beginning at the 16:05 mark.
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