Jay Leno Explains Why His Audience Likes Him More When He Stays Away from Politics
Jay Leno says he’s done talking politics on stage, but I bet he’d do a whole docuseries on the presidential motorcade.
At 73, it’s remarkable that the former Tonight Show host and mortal foe of Conan O’Brien still takes the stage in dozens of cities and towns every year to continue performing comedy. Even a slew of motorcycle accidents and garage fires have failed to slow down the septuagenarian stand-up — following the most recent motor-related catastrophe to put Leno in the hospital back in 2022, Leno returned from a severe burn injury to perform a set after just two weeks of recuperation. It seems like nothing besides the Grim Reaper could ever keep Leno away from a mic stand — but the kinds of jokes he’ll tell once he’s there have changed drastically.
A decade after Leno left his demandingly topical gig at The Tonight Show, he says that he’s done poking fun at politicians and current events indefinitely. In a recent interview with The Hill, Leno explained that his audience “likes it better” when he avoids taking any stances on political issues in his act, saying, “Hopefully they come to a comedy show to get away from politics.” And hopefully they drive safely on their way there.
“I don’t even do politics anymore in my act,” Leno said. “You’re up there and you’re getting the laughs, then you get into the political stuff.” Leno argues that, the second an ideology makes an appearance in a stand-up show, it will invariably put a chunk of the audience on the defensive and silence their laughter. “It turns mean. They want to hear what the joke is — whether it’s about my guy or against my guy,” he explained. “They’re not thinking of the joke. They’re thinking of the implications of the joke.”
Leno says that, in an era when political conversations and the endless culture wars infiltrate every corner of entertainment, it’s a rarity for a performer to simply focus on entertaining. “I think we get enough of everybody’s opinions. It’s nice to hear a singer just sing, or a comedian just be funny,” Leno opined.
However, Leno says that “no politics” isn’t a hard-and-fast rule for every comedian — just for his own act. “Obviously if you’re going to go see Stephen Colbert, a political comedian, that’s what you want,” he admitted.
When you're going to see Jay Leno perform, on the other hand, you just want car jokes and one-liners — extra crispy.