Jimmy Fallon pulled a hamstring midway through The Tonight Show monologue Tuesday, but thankfully there was someone in the building who could serve as emergency substitute. Jay Leno returned to the show where he spent over 20 years as host to deliver a five-minute monologue of political humor.
“The election is getting nasty. Ralph Nader called Hillary a corporatist and a militarist. Isn’t that incredible … Ralph Nader still alive,” Leno joked. Leno also called a presidential showdown between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump the battle “between the Tortoise and the Bad Hair,” and said that if Bernie Sanders were somehow elected, he would be the first socialist president “since 2008.”
Leno’s rapid-fire monologue then ripped through jokes about Osama bin Laden, Obamacare and the economy. “The economy in California is so bad, parents in Beverly Hills are being forced to raise their own children, that never happens,” Leno said. “It is so bad in Seattle, I saw a guy panhandling just to pay for his Starbucks … It is so bad, even the Kardashians are losing their ass.” Fallon then came back in from the sidelines to contribute his own economy jokes as both the past and current Tonight Show hosts shared center stage.
Leno is back in the public eye thanks to his new CNBC show Jay Leno’s Garage, which focuses on the former host’s massive stable of vehicles. Adweek spoke to Leno about the state of late-night since he’s left, which late-night hosts he prefers to watch and why he didn’t appear on the final Late Show with his longtime rival David Letterman. “Well, I asked Dave to do a 10-second tape for us [when I left]. Anything, just, “Leno who?” They said no, they didn’t want to do it,” Leno said of his Tonight Show farewell. “Well, why am I going to run all the way to New York? I mean, quid pro quo. I just said, ‘No, that’s kind of silly.'”
As for the shakeup in late-night in recent years – Fallon taking over for Leno, Seth Meyers filling in for Fallon on Late Night, Stephen Colbert piloting the Late Show, James Corden replacing Craig Ferguson on Late Late Show – Leno admits not much has changed on TV after 11:30 p.m. Only Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O’Brien remain in the same role since Leno last hosted The Tonight Show.
“It’s exactly the same. It’s all white guys,” Leno said. “What’s changed? Nothing’s changed. You just replace one white guy with another. I’m waiting for the breakthrough African-American or female host. But it’s all white guys, and most of them are named Jimmy. Whenever we do a show, I always try to have good diversity—not hit people over the head with it.”
Leno admits that he still watches late-night television, and that he remains loyal to his old stomping ground and NBC’s two-hour block. “I watch it for enjoyment now. I watch Jimmy [Fallon]; I watch Seth [Meyers],” Leno said. “I don’t really watch a lot of the others. Those are my two favorites. I like those guys.”