It’s 2019, and at least one man still cares what Jay Leno thinks. And that man, of course, happens to be the president.
Leno, the long-time host of NBC’s Tonight Show, groused about the state of late-night during an interview on Tuesday’s episode of Today. The man who stole The Tonight Show from Letterman, and then again from Conan O’Brien, claims to be glad that he’s no longer following up the local news on NBC five nights a week. Everything’s just too political now, says the guy who yearns for the day when the most popular late-night show in the country could get away with “comedy” like the Dancing Itos and Jaywalking. As quoted by The Hill, Leno complains that “everyone has to know your politics,” and that, in his day, political comedy was essentially apolitical. It wasn’t about Clinton’s policies, but that he was, in Leno’s words, “horny.”
It definitely sounds like Leno’s advocating for jokes about Donald Trump as a personality, while ignoring all the things the man and his administration have said and done that make them singularly corrupt and unqualified. It’s that kind of celebrity-focused, unserious coverage from the media that helped turn Trump from a low-rent reality TV huckster into somebody who fits the technical definition of “president.” We would agree that there’s too much political comedy out there, and that too much of it is lazy and witless—see Alec Baldwin’s interminable Trump impersonation on SNL—but arguing that people like Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert or John Oliver are hurting comedy or late-night by actually discussing real issues that impact the world we live in, and not just making jokes about a caricature of the caricature we currently have in the White House, is just asinine. Of course that’s exactly what you’d expect from Jay Leno, the man who realized he couldn’t match Johnny Carson’s class and sharp wit and thus resorted to shameless pandering.
We wouldn’t have even thought twice about Leno’s comments—the guy’s been out of touch since before he even took the Tonight Show over—if at least one person out there hadn’t heartily agreed with him. Of course we’re talking about Trump himself, that sentient grease stain we’re legally required to acknowledge as president. Trump took a break from tweeting weirdly capitalized rants about witch hunts and border walls to commend Leno on his comments, which the president learned about (of course) while watching Fox and Friends.
Of course Trump is too stupid to even understand Jay Leno, of all people. Even if late-night returned to the kind of political comedy they specialized in back under Clinton and the first term of George W. Bush, where the joke isn’t about any actual policies or news but the comic persona that the media has created around the president, Trump would still be furious. If Trump was portrayed as “horny” or “dumb,” as Leno reminisces about Clinton and Bush, he’d still accuse those shows of hatred and bias. It’s well-established that Trump sees anything short of fulsome praise as lies and betrayal. If Conan O’Brien brought back the Clutch Cargo bit and had a set of lips superimposed on Trump’s face, making absurd but generally innocuous jokes about the president’s public persona, Trump would probably tweet vague threats about revoking TBS’s broadcast license.
Trump doesn’t hate one-sided comedy—he thirsts for it, and would legally enforce it, if he could. It would just be focused on the other side, though, like any of Fox News’ failed attempts at comedy shows, leaving Trump untouched while squarely targeting anybody who disagrees with him. If Jay Leno somehow took over The Tonight Show again, and went back to the exact same kind of humor his version of the show was known for, Trump would be writing 6 a.m. tweets about how biased Leno and NBC are, and how the failing Tonight Show was boring and unwatchable, the first time Leno made a lazy, obvious joke about him.
At least there’s this, though: it’s 2019, and we don’t have to spend any amount of time thinking about anything Jay Leno says or does at this point. Too bad we can’t say the same about his fellow former NBC employee, that weird cartoon businessman from The Apprentice.