By Kathleen Vanesian
By Amy Silverman
By Robrt L. Pela
By Jim Louvau
By Kathleen Vanesian
By Benjamin Leatherman
By New Times
By Becky Bartkowski
Leno: I promise you, it was not staged. I know you're suspicious, and I would be, too. But it really happened.
NT: You've taken some shots lately from political analysts who claim you've become the pawn of Arnold Schwarzenegger and President Bush.
Leno: You know, it's really silly. My wife got the Nobel Peace Prize a couple of years ago for her work on behalf of the women of Afghanistan. And everyone was screaming about how I'd become a liberal. And now I'm getting it about the Arnold thing. Look, I've known him for 25 years. I never said he'd be a good governor. I did all the jokes about him groping girls, but the night he got elected I introduced him after the polls closed. Now, that doesn't constitute an endorsement. I didn't campaign for him. And I'm not registered as either a Democrat or a Republic. I like anarchy, because it keeps politicians fighting among themselves, which is much more interesting than when they're getting along.
NT: But it is true that people in your position -- people with network talk shows -- have become more important to American politics than party chairmen.
Leno: Oh! Not really. The Tonight Show is a softball show. This isn't a hard-hitting interview program. People come on from all parties; we just had Howard Dean on the show, and Al Sharpton has been on. We show the lighter side of the politicians.
NT: Your pal Arnold busted you for looking at your watch during his acceptance speech.
Leno: Exactly. Oh, god. Everyone showed that clip. Letterman showed it! I'm like, "I had to get back to work! I was just checking the time because I had to get back to work!"
NT: You could run for office. Except then people would start digging up old horrors from your past. Like your stint on Laverne and Shirley.
Leno: No, I could not run for office. Politics is show business for ugly people.
NT: Speaking of which, how's the Jay Leno look-alike contest going?
Leno: That's something the network is doing. It's an Internet thing. I have to admit I don't pay much attention to stuff like that.
NT: I notice your fan club was canceled.
Leno: My fan club? I didn't know I had one.
NT: Oh, come on.
Leno: No, listen: The real trick to this business is to make show business money while living a normal life. I'm always suspicious when people are too solicitous. If you do a sucky show in this town, people will say, "You were great!" Then you look around and realize you're paying these people's salaries; what else are they going to say? Tickets to the Tonight Show are free, but when you go out on the road, people have to buy a ticket to see you. And if you suck, they're not gonna laugh. It's real simple. And so playing these small clubs is about finding out if your jokes are funny or not. It's about keeping it real.