“I didn’t want to do it while Johnny was alive, out of respect for Johnny — I don’t think he wanted to see her on the show,” Leno told Access Hollywood. It wasn’t a promise made personally to Carson: “No, no, it never came up. nothing was ever said, we just didn’t do it.”
Carson and Rivers “broke up” after the comedienne was offered her own late-night show, following multiple appearances on The Tonight Show. Rivers returned to The Tonight Show under Jimmy Fallon’s reign earlier this year, for the first time in 25 years.
After Carson passed, “It got a little awkward — by that point, Joan was going on and on about me,” Leno explained, noting that he personally liked Rivers, and she was the first autograph he ever got. He doesn’t regret the decision, though. “No, I don’t have regrets about anything.”
Leno — who is set to host a primetime series on CNBC — also spoke about the late Robin Williams, whom he saw audition at The Improv and always joked with Jerry Seinfeld that the three of them would be making fun of each other into their old age, similar to Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. “It would be great fun to be 85 years old and sit with Jerry and Robin, and that’s not gonna happen,” he said.
“I love Robin — he was a good comic, never trashed other comedians, never got involved in any trash talk or that kind of nonsense,” Leno said of Williams. “He was very supportive, always helped out young performers, and homeless people, and he was a really, decent, decent guy who obviously had a lot of demons. He fought that fight every day, but you only have to lose that fight once.”
Watch the video below, including his reflections on depression, his Mark Twain comedy prize and “being a comedian again” via stand-up.