Kyle Smith ponders whether Jay Leno is a man of the left or right:
The Atlantic Wire is a new service that is a bit like The Week in that it attempts to summarize what left and right are saying about a given topic. They’re doing an excellent job puzzling over the politics of the nation’s reigning President of Comedy Jay Leno at the moment, comparing his interview with Michael Moore (favorable to fawning) with the tough one he did with Rush Limbaugh. Various commentators try to read the Leno leaves to figure out whether he’s liberal or conservative. Liberals seem to assume he’s a Republican solely because he does what all comics did until this decade –- make fun of left and right in more or less equal portion. (Though he is a bit more likely to make fun of the left, it seems to me.) John Nolte quipped that Jay could improve his critical reception by removing the American flag pin from his lapel.
I have always assumed he’s a liberal (come on people, he’s from Boston, he’s in show business, he’s lived in LA for the last few decades) who is canny enough to know that liberal humor often comes across as snarky and elitist. Leno himself backs this up when he talks about playing the road to gauge national sentiment — and to learn that what people love on the coasts falls flat in Indianapolis.
Jay Leno says, “I’m not conservative. I’ve never voted that way in my life.” He “really worries” what a Dubya victory in November will do to the makeup of the Supreme Court. He believes “the wool was pulled over our eyes” with the Iraq war. He thinks the White House began using terrorism “as a crutch” after 9/11. He feels that during the campaign Kerry should “make Bush look as stupid as possible.” He believes “the media is in the pocket of the government, and they don’t do their job” so “you have people like Michael Moore who do it for them.” He has on his joke-writing staff a number of former professional speechwriters for Democratic candidates. “No Republicans.” When it comes to Bush, he doesn’t think his politics are much different from Letterman’s. “Does he show his dislike maybe a little more than I do? Probably.”
Of course, Letterman’s fangs have only gotten sharper in the years since, to the point where he couldn’t decide in 2006 if he wanted America to win in Iraq, and this year seems to sclerotically attack Sarah Palin, or her kids every other night, and occasionally even his own audience.
While Letterman’s show was originally produced under Johnny Carson’s aegis, and Letterman was touted by Carson as his logical successor, it’s Leno who, given the job by NBC’s brass, has since made the smarter move of adopting Carson’s on-air stance of political neutrality and unlike Letterman, dialed back his politics. As Kyle notes above, such an apolitical tone hasn’t helped Leno with the critics, but clearly, he’s laughing all the way to the bank by not alienating his audiences.