Listen up, future Hollywood stars: Jay Leno has some advice for hopeful comedians.
“I always tell new people in show business, ‘Look, show business pays you a lot of money because eventually you’re going to get screwed. And when you get screwed, you will have this pile of money off to the side….That’s the way it works,’” Leno told Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes Sunday night.
To Leno’s mind, “getting screwed” is what is – once again – happening to him. In the 15-minute interview, Leno was simultaneously defensive – like when he explained for the umpteenth time he had nothing to do with Conan O’Brien’s 2010 Tonight Show departure – and resigned to the next chapter, like when he explained that, at 64, he simply doesn’t have his finger on some of the “social” aspects successor Jimmy Fallon does. “I see him do a dance number with Justin Timberlake and I think, ‘Well, I can’t do that.’” (He also copped to not knowing the latest Justin Bieber single – which more than a few people would actually count as a positive.)
Looking back on his 22-year legacy (Leno’s final show is Feb. 6), Leno acknowledged he wasn’t always a critics’ favorite, but pointed out his consistent number one ratings as proof he must be doing something right. “You’re trying to appeal to the whole spectrum,” Leno said about writing monologue jokes. “For every smart, insightful joke, there’s a goofy joke ….that’s the trick. You try to have something for everybody.”
Watch a partial clip from the interview below:
Elsewhere in the interview, they talked about Tonight’s big hand-off debacle. Leno said he was “stunned” to get The Tonight Show back in 2010, but he wasn’t prepared for a backlash that made him look like the villain. “I didn’t quite understand that,” Leno said about the ‘bad guy’ persona. “It’s not my way….Never in my wildest dreams would I think [I’d get the show back]. I thought [O’Brien] would do fine.”
Leno’s wife, Mavis, also appeared in this part of the chat and quite forcefully stressed that the Leno who appeared in 2010 headlines isn’t a fair depiction of him. “There was this perception that for some reason he made the decision to give up the show to Conan [and then take it back again],” she explained. “That’s just not what happened.”
As for the current changing of the guard, “It’s not my decision,” Leno elaborated about his second forced exit. “I think I would have stayed, if we didn’t have an extremely qualified, young guy to jump in.” While Leno praised Fallon as “a young [Johnny] Carson,” Kroft pointed out Leno said similar positive things about O’Brien…and we all know how that turned out. “Maybe I did,” Leno said with a rueful laugh.
When it comes to what’s next, workaholic Leno admitted he isn’t sure – perhaps one-off specials on the History Channel or something like that, in addition to stand-up touring. “You can’t recreate what we had at the Tonight Show,” Leno said. “…But it’s really fun making people laugh.”