Sure, in some ways it is easy to be dismissive of Jay Leno. We get it: He’s a former late-night talk show host that was not particularly loved by many in the media. However, at the same time his version of “The Tonight Show” did generate big ratings, and he had the job for decades. It is easy sometimes to thumb your nose at populism, but his success speaks for being able to deliver something that many people liked.
Therefore, we do give a certain credence to some of what Jay said to TVInsider at TCA on Thursday (where he was promoting more of “Jay Leno’s Garage”) when it comes to the late-night landscape, in particular Jimmy Kimmel, who famously mocked Jay while on Jay’s show over taking “The Tonight Show” back from Conan O’Brien. His biggest argument against Jimmy is that he feels mostly like Kimmel does a lot of comedy that is generated around what he calls “mean” things:
“The most element you can have in doing a late night show is kindness. Because the show makes you arrogant. I think that’s Jimmy Kimmel’s problem … I think he’s a talented guy. I think he’s funny. But he has a mean streak, and it comes across. He does this thing where he takes Halloween candy from kids and the kids cry. What am I missing here? It is funny I guess, but it’s mean-based. I think that’s why he’s not higher in the ratings.”
We actually will agree a little here with Jay in that we’ve never found the stuff Jimmy does involving tricking kids to be funny, since it’s mostly capitalizing on sadness for laughs. It’s a little different to trick an adult or someone who should really know better. Is this that egregious, though? Hardly. It’s not like Kimmel is really offending anyone, and he does do really great interviews and is snarky about things in a way that few other late-night comics are. We just think Kimmel’s ratings are due more to the era, where there are so many different viewing options, than anything that has to do with his comedy.
Also, Jay’s been known to tell plenty of jokes in his time that could be interpreted as “mean” in their own right.
Jay was somewhat more praise-worthy of Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fallon, and the upcoming Stephen Colbert; he said that he wished there was more diversity in late-night, but said that Colbert was very smart and is not the comic many right-wing viewers think he is.
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