Jay Leno, being inducted into the TV Academy’s Hall of Fame on Tuesday night, said he’s glad he left NBC’s Tonight Show when he did because he was the oldest person on the show. Everyone else was 20 to 40 years younger than him and, while you may think you’re holding your own with them, “they’re really just laughing at you,” he explained. “You can’t be hip past a certain age. You have old guy gestures.” And when you make references to The Dick Van Dyke Show they think it’ s “a lesbian joke or something” — and they don’t understand what you’re talking about when you say the time is “Half past 2.”
Leno told the Beverly Wilshire Hotel gathering his favorite book is Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol — a searing indictment of 19th century industrial capitalism — and his favorite character in that classic work of literature, Mr. Fezziwig, who treated a young Ebenezer Scrooge like a son. Leno mentioned this by way of saying how proud he was that his Tonight Show was a place where people came to work hard during the day and, at 6, they went home to be with their family.
Even though he’s now “jobless and penniless” Leno still is a “fantastic stand-up,” said Bill Maher, who inducted Leno into the Hall, and the fact people are wondering what he will do next proves he’s still relevant, the HBO show host said. He described Leno’s more than two decades hosting Tonight as a drive down a highway in “some giant gleaming pristine luxury car with the competition far in the rearview mirror — except one time when NBC,” driving some beat-up clunker, “blindsided him and beat the sh*t out of his beautiful car.” Maher blamed TV critics for rewriting history to make Leno’s predecessor, Johnny Carson, out to be some guy who did a “rebellious, edgy, film noir version” of Tonight Show that by comparison made Jay look like a milquetoast. “That’s all bullsh*t — and I say that as a fan of Carson,” Maher said. Leno is the victim of “some bad publicity over the years” that he did not deserve — most famously how America got it into its head that “Jay Leno stole Conan O’Brien’s dream,” Maher complained, calling it, “the most hysterical thought I’ve ever heard, in a business known for bullsh*t.”
“Jay reminds me a little of Israel,” Maher continued. “He isn’t perfect but he’s held to standard I don’t think anybody in the world is expected to live up to but him,” he said, calling Leno “the most Machiavellian and also the most morally upright person I know in show business. He will hide in a closet but never needs a confessional booth.”