I used to think I couldn’t get along without Jay Leno. When I returned from the Middle East in November of 2001, it was Leno’s monologue I watched every night to catch up with the current political jokes. At first it was “Where’s Osama Ben Hiding?” every night. Then with the Iraqi standoff, there was that hilarious fake game show with Saddam’s press secretary. I had everything timed exactly to catch Leno’s monologue then flip to Letterman in time to see the Top Ten List countdown. But since the Hollywood writers’ strike I haven’t watched much of late-night television.
The other night I tuned in to the Leno show again just to to see Mitt Romney’s guest appearance, and I was sorry I did. Mitt was asked no difficult questions and said nothing remarkable. But to fill time, Leno told a joke about someone who was stupid simply because they were blonde. To make it worse, the camera did a prolonged shot of someone blonde in the audience laughing politely, as if to make fun of them both for being blonde and for being polite. Apparently, blondes are not “us”. Blondes are “them”. And Leno has a psychological need to tell jokes that disparage people. Perhaps he needs to dig a hole under someone else to make himself look taller. Whatever.
I ask you, if Leno were to tell a joke about people with black skin being stupid, would that be acceptable? Or would people write in to tell him it wasn’t fair to blacks? That it would be damaging to little black children to try to make people think there was something wrong with being born black? Oh, you would hear from them all right, and from the parents of the children too. Jesse Jackson would start a boycott. Jay Leno would be lucky if he ever worked again.
Well, if Leno can’t get away with trashing black people, maybe he can get away with trashing blonde people. Maybe Jay Leno thinks hate speech is acceptable as long as northern Europeans are the only target.
But you know, during the writers’ strike I discovered that I really don’t need to watch the Tonight Show anymore. I don’t even miss it. The best political humor is now on Saturday morning’s National Public Radio with “Wait, wait, don’t tell me.”
Clearly Leno has decided he doesn’t need blondes.
So tell me, why do I need Leno?