MIAMI — Jay Leno left no doubt where he stands on the Bill Cosby controversy with his remarks during a Q&A session at the NATPE conference on Wednesday.
“I don’t know why it’s so hard to believe women,” Leno told comedian Tom Papa, who moderated the conversation. “You to go Saudi Arabia and you need two women to testify against a man. Here you need 25.”
Leno noted that the Cosby scandal was driven by a viral video made by comedian Hannibal Buress. He cited that as an example of how news and information is getting out unfiltered these days, which he said was a good thing.
Buress “made a flat-out statement that reverberated around the world,” Leno said. “On any other media that would have been edited. People are getting news unfiltered now.”
Leno had kind words for Jimmy Fallon and Larry Wilmore during the wide-ranging Q&A. He called Fallon’s “Tonight Show” excellent and a strong contrast to his approach. He’s been watching Wilmore’s debut on Comedy Central’s “The Nightly Show” this week. “He brings a different perspective,” Leno said.
Leno also observed that “it’s a good time for female comedians right now” and said he was “disappointed there isn’t more diversity in latenight comedy.” He noted that Phyllis Diller would occasionally call to give him jokes during his 22-year run on “The Tonight Show.”
Leno told Papa he had no regrets or resentment over signing off — for good — last February. “You have to know when it’s time to move on,” he said.
Leno emphasized that he always made sure to have an active life outside of showbiz so that when the end came, he wasn’t crushed. His standup touring is a big part of what has kept him grounded. “I always had another trade that I kept in my back pocket,” he said. “Show business is like champagne. If you drink it every day you become an alcoholic.”
Reflecting on the ups and downs of his time at NBC, Leno said he never thought his ill-fated 10 p.m. variety show would work on NBC. “The idea behind the show was that we were never going to win in primetime but when reruns of (competing drama series) came along, we would do OK,” Leno said, adding that he never “wanted to have a show with my name on it.”
One of the reasons he agreed to do the 10 p.m. “Jay Leno Show” in 2009 was that NBC made two-year salary commitments to his entire “Tonight Show” staff. He asserted that the show was hurt by an industry boycott among some stars because the show was seen as taking away jobs from the scripted creative community.
Nowadays he feels like an outside observer to the showbiz rat-race. Asked if he had offers to do another talk show, Leno joked “Oh yeah, the phone’s ringing off the hook. ‘We’re looking for a 64-year-old worn-out comedian.’ “
Leno didn’t comment directly on the pending sign-off of his longtime rival David Letterman from latenight in May. But he drew a distinction between their career paths. “I was a comedian who was lucky enough to get a talk show,” Leno said. “Dave is a broadcaster who is also a comedian.”