As Jay Leno prepares to say goodbye for a second and final — no, this time, he and NBC really mean it! — to The Tonight Show, Leno sat down with 60 Minutes for an extended interview and profile.
And by extended, I mean, we get to see his wife, Mavis, and visit his hometown of Andover, Mass. (which, fun facts, was where my parents lived during much of Leno’s first tenure as host of The Tonight Show), where we’re reminded that Leno “got his comedy start in a talent contest surrounding the promotion of McDonald’s’ Fillet-o-Fish sandwich.”
If you’re wondering why Leno’s on CBS and not on NBC, well, sure, you can think long and hard about which respectable NBC hard-news program he’d go on, or about how it might seem like shenanigans by staying on the network, or you can remember, as CBS reminded us, that Leno also sat down with reporter Steve Kroft way back in 1992, when the Tonight Show host turnover was soooooooooooo much more peaceful. Ahem.
We’ll see the full thing on Sunday. (See it now)
For the tease, we were told that Leno described his first ousting in 2009 as “I was blindsided,” despite being given five years notice. Nevertheless, Leno tells 60 Minutes in 2014 that it felt like being dumped: “You know, you have a girl [who] says, ‘I don’t want to see you anymore.’ Why? You know, she doesn’t want to see you anymore, okay?”
This time around, Leno is saying nice things about Fallon, even he minces his words about whether he had to leave his job in the process. “It’s not my decision and I think I probably would have stayed if we didn’t have an extremely qualified, young guy ready to jump in. He’s probably more like a young Johnny [Carson] than anybody since. And he’s really good. So you go with the new guy. Makes perfect sense to me.”
Roll the clip!
Kroft lets Leno off easy, for the most part. There is one point in which he reminds Leno that he said the same nice things about Conan O’Brien five years ago that he’s saying about Fallon now. To which Leno chuckled. “Huh? Did I say the same things? Yeah, prob– well, maybe I did, yeah. Well, we’ll see what happens.”
For those of you with even shorter memories, here is when Steve Kroft caught up with Conan O’Brien for 60 Minutes in May 2010.
But there’s quite a bit that didn’t make air on Sunday night. Mostly from his childhood home in Andover, Mass.
His formative high-school years:
And his first job at McDonald’s:
And here’s the earlier 60 Minutes profile of Leno from 22 years ago, which includes an early look at his garage, a sit-down with his former manager, and a midnight pow-wow with his joke writers poring over index cards and reciting potential monologue jokes for the next night into a tape recorder! And a curious lack of denim. But still, on Sunday nights, you could find him then, and now, at the Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, Calif.
So what now, other than the road from Hermosa Beach to a city near you?
Leno told 60 Minutes: “I don’t know what I’ll do. Will I do another late night show to go against any of these people? No. No, that– no. You can’t recreate what we had at “The Tonight Show.” That was a 22-year moment in time. It was fantastic. And I loved it. Would I like to do things with– oh, I don’t know, History Channel? Yeah, I think that would be fun to do.”
So Kroft wondered, half-jokingly, “So you’re going to the History Channel? Can we go with that?”
Leno: “No, no, no, I’m not going to the History Channel. But I really like being a comedian. I mean, I like going on the road. It’s really fun making people laugh, you know?”
Leno has made the interview rounds, and if you made it this far, there’s some kernels of truth to be found in his discussions with The Hollywood Reporter and TV Guide, too.
He told TV Guide that Jerry Seinfeld seems to have the right idea: “Jerry is sort of my role model on this, and we’ve talked about this. He seems to have done it the right way. I did his [web series] Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee the other day and it was great fun.” So not late-night, then. “I’ve been passing on a lot of things because I don’t want to do another version of this. I don’t want to do the Tonight Show somewhere else, when the Tonight Show name is over here. I might do something; I just don’t want to do this. And I’m not going to go challenge any of my friends, or whatever they are, in late night as well. At least not in the foreseeable future.”
And to THR, Leno gave a similar answer about his small-screen future: “Most of them are very similar to what I do, and to do the “Tonight Show Lite” wouldn’t make a lot of sense. I do have this Jay Leno’s Garage channel and that’s been really successful. I really enjoy that and it’s different from what I do here so consequently I’m not competing against the shadow of my former self.”
He also said several interesting things about his relationship with David Letterman, as well as the relations he hopes to have with other stand-up comedians now in 2014.
About Letterman, Leno offered:
“Dave and I have an interesting relationship in that when he came to town I think he admired my ability to perform and I admired his ability to weave sentences and phrases. When he would get up at the Comedy Store, he was not a natural stand-up, so he was a little nervous. I think he’d watch me and I would just sort of plow ahead and be loud. He sort of admired that, and I admired his ability to be subtle. So I learned from Dave the subtleties of doing a joke, and I think he learned from me how to really sell a joke. So there was always a mutual admiration, and we always made each other laugh.”
And about what’s next for Jay Leno?
I’ll tell you something: I was in Atlantic City on a Saturday night [not too long ago] and I went down to the local comedy club and went out to eat with a bunch of new comics. We just sat and talked about comedy. I thought, “This is fun.” This is what you used to do when you were starting out. I hardly know any of the new comics anymore because I’m not in the clubs. So it’ll be fun to go back to the clubs and hang out a little bit.
Have you considered doing a residency in Las Vegas?
Oh, I don’t want “The Jay Leno Room” in Vegas. That’s annoying. Anything with your name on it is annoying. I didn’t like the idea of The Jay Leno Show at 10 p.m. I remember saying to them back in the 1980s, “Anything with your name on it is annoying and it’s not going to work.” I’ve been proven right, obviously.