Former Tonight Show host Jay Leno shared his thoughts on the state of late night and was applauded by President Donald Trump.
Michael Jordan is famously credited with saying that “Republicans buy shoes too” in response to why he didn’t share his political beliefs. Jay Leno would like to see that same approach applied to today’s late night shows.
For many years, Jay Leno was the face of late night television along with David Letterman. The Tonight Show with Jay Leno ran from 1992 to 2009 and then again from 2010 to 2014 following NBC’s debacle with Conan O’Brien.
During his time as a late night host, Leno developed a style that was considered relatively harmless. Critics expressed that Leno did little to move The Tonight Show forward and abandoned much of what made him a fantastic stand-up comic. Leno wanted to play to a broad audience and get as many viewers as possible without alienating anyone.
It is that approach that Leno suggested is missing from late night in 2019. He sat down with the Today show and reflected on the format’s focus on politics:
"I don’t miss it. You know, everything now is, if people don’t like your politics, they — everyone has to know your politics. But when people see you as one-sided, it just makes it tough. Now it’s all very serious. I’d just like to see a bit of civility come back to it, you know?"
There is no denying that politics have become the dominating topic in late night. Hosts like Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, and Jimmy Kimmel have become more outspoken with the election of President Donald Trump.
But that hasn’t necessarily kept viewers away from their shows. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is typically tops in late night ratings. There is clearly an audience that wants to hear these political opinions and get some comedy along with the day’s headlines.
Leno’s call for civility is indicative of his approach to comedy while hosting The Tonight Show. Not that Colbert and Kimmel are looking to offend with their jokes, but it’s clear that their political humor is a response to the rhetoric coming from Washington.
Jay Leno is fair to say that a one-sided approach can be alienating to some audience members. However, there are more options than ever when it comes to late night. Someone who doesn’t agree with Stephen Colbert or Seth Meyers may have better luck tuning into Jimmy Fallon or Conan O’Brien.
There was one person in particular who appreciated Leno’s take on the state of late night: President Donald Trump. The president has made his thoughts very clear regarding humor at his expense. Whether the president should even care about late night is another issue, but he applauded Leno’s comments on Twitter.
Saying that there is only “one topic” is a bit of a stretch. Late night shows continue to cover anything that is happening in pop culture or with celebrities. The issue is that Trump routinely inserts himself into any story and would likely be angry if people weren’t talking about him.
The best approach for late night hosts is to have their shows be a reflection of their personality and sense of humor. That seems to be what Jay Leno did so he can’t fault Colbert and others for doing the same, just with a different perspective. Jimmy Fallon is perhaps the closest thing to a modern day Jay Leno in late night. He uses a similar inclusive and harmless approach yet has still revitalized The Tonight Show and made it his own.
Maybe Leno will be excited to watch David Spade’s new late night show. It won’t be so focused on politics as other shows. But then again, if Leno is looking for civility he may not find it with Spade ripping on celebrities and pop culture.
There is no denying that Jay Leno was a popular late night host. His show performed well in the ratings and he left an admirable legacy in tact prior to the catastrophe with Conan O’Brien. But the late night landscape has moved on and changed without him and it will continue to go forward when the current administration is gone. So stay tuned, fans.