PUBLISHED IN THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR SEPTEMBER 10, 1990

by Nick Krewen

 

JAY LENO chooses his words wisely.

That's why the 38-year old comedian from Andover, Massachusetts

- making a rare Hamilton Place appearance tomorrow night - is

currently the hottest joke salesman today. He's landed a plum gig

as permanent Monday night guest host for The Tonight Show, and

his weekdays are booked solid with jetsetting to major North

American centres as a headliner.

And he admits that part of his success is due that he doesn't

include foul language in his act.

"It's funnier for me to come up with a word than rely on shock

value, " Leno told me last week from his Los Angeles residence.

"It's funnier to call somebody a snivelling druid than a

s***head. I remember going to Boston College to hear ABBY

HOFFMAN, and he said the word "f***". And back then, nobody did

it, so it was a major event. Nowadays, the shock value is gone."

However, he doesn't mind other people using them.

"I don't profess to be an expert on other people's approach.

When I see (GEORGE) CARLIN or (RICHARD PRYOR) and they swear, I

think they're very funny. I don't find it offensive. I only get

offended or bored when there's no reason to use it - like the guy

who comes out and says, "Toronto sucks!" - and that's the joke!"

It's not funny because there is no joke. However, there are

comics that use it as a crutch."

Leno then calls it "my 39 1/2 theory", and offers an

explanation.

"If you're a young and attractive comedian, you can get away

with a lot more than if you're older," said Leno. "If you're

25 and you tell a joke about sex, young girls will giggle,

exchange knowing glances and think you're cute.

"But if you're 39 1/2, your hair is falling out, and you have a

pot belly that snaps the bottom button on your shirt - and you

tell the same joke - girls will think you're disgusting and

wonder, `Hey, what's that old guy thinking about?'"

Laughter rings over the line.

"It's true," he said with a chuckle, "I've seen it happen - to

good friends of mine."

But Leno admits he isn't - in his words - "the Walt Disney of

comedy".

"There's a certain set of boundaries that you work within as a

comedian, and my job is to come as close them or extend them as

much as possible, without exceeding the confines of good taste."

He also rejects the heckling approach - and is not interested in

setting up his audience to be the target of barbs.

"I'm not an angry comic," says Leno. "I was once asked if I

wanted to insult my audience. Of course I don't! They pay $20  to

see me - I want to entertain them , not piss them off."

Leno said that for comedy to be successful, subjects must be

topical and delivery is crucial."

"The kind of act you do is really youth-oriented, " he said. "

Now we're heading into an era where good health is being

emphasized, so you probably notice that there aren't any

comedians successfully concentrating on drug-oriented humor.

Where are CHEECH & CHONG today?"

Leno's act is about two hours, most of which is prepared in

advance, although he admits that his material for the Tonight

Show is new.

"It's important to update your material. Let's face it, if

you're a comedian and you're doing bits on the Falkland Islands,

then you're in trouble."

Leno prefers the immediacy of television to records and videos.

"I don't like doing movies either," said Leno, "It's too much

like a day job."

When asked about his current lawsuit involving his first movie,

Collision Course, which is unreleased, Leno joked, "I don't care.

I got my money out of it. I'm outta there."

"Well, I did the movie for DeLaurentiis (studio), and then they

went bankrupt - officially in January but unofficially about

three weeks ago. Since the studios owed the bank, the bank ended

up owning the film. I guess it'll eventually show up somewhere."

Leno said he noticed a change of stature with his appearances

on the Late Night with David Letterman show - after he changed

his attitude.

"I remember appearing on the Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin shows

in the mid-70s, and I used to work the colleges, so I could go on

with a t-shirt and a sports jacket.

"I changed my attitude because I used to lose auditions. I was

polite and took everything seriously - and I never got any work.

One day I was sitting beside another comedian and the producer

came out and asked me, `Why do you think you should get this

job.' And I told him that I thought I was pretty good and I was

learning the ropes and had a lot of potential.

"Then he asked the next guy the same question, and the guy

replied, "Because I'm great." And the producer went with him for

the show.

"So I found that once I began treating everything sarcastically

- using wit - and with less importance than it needed, I got

hired."

As hot as he is, Leno knows his days are numbered. But instead

of the 15 minutes of success the late ANDY WARHOL prophesized, a

comedian's lifespan is ten years.

"You have ten really good years, and then there's a fall from

grace," said Leno. "Then you struggle for awhile, make the great

Hollywood comeback, get the cover of People Magazine and then

check into the Betty Ford Clinic to get rid of your

addiction."

-30-

THANKS: RICHARD FLOHIL

©1990, 2000 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink

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