Tuned In

Jay Leno, Politician

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Because it’s been making the rounds, here’s an unusual Funny or Die clip. It’s not “funny because it’s true,” it’s just, well, true. It’s simply a verbatim Jay Leno talk, from 2004, on how he didn’t want an ugly fight over the Tonight Show, would graciously hand over the desk to Conan in 2009, and did not want to try keeping the show into his 60s or hang on until he went out “on a stretcher”:

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I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: the biggest danger to Leno among the audience is not his money, or sympathy for Conan, or the notion that he was somehow pulling the strings behind NBC’s decision. It’s being seen as a phony. Or, more to the point, actually being a phony.

People will forgive a lot of comedians they love. They’ll forgive affairs, offensive remarks, arrests, jokes that crossed a line. But they rely on guys like Leno to puncture other people’s phoniness and to have an impeccable B.S. detector. When it becomes increasingly clear that Leno’s peddling a line of B.S.—well, is it evil? No. Is it career-ending? Not at this point anyway; Leno’s got plenty of loyalists. But it hurts the brand.

If there’s one thing that Leno exists for and lives to do in his topical monologues, it’s to be on the side of the audience, who—whatever their beliefs—all love to see hypocrites get exposed, to see politicians caught out breaking their campaign promises.

Right now, though, Jay Leno looks like nothing more than a politician—one who decided to change his mind on term limits once it became convenient.