October 9, 2003


The Right Comic: Jay Leno’s embrace of Arnold (Nikki Finke, 10/10/03, LA Weekly)

CNN called it "Leno’s big political moment." Now, he’s a big political target.

The reason is that these days America expects its late-night comedians to be evenhanded when it comes to political humor. These hosts don’t invade bedrooms around the country; they’re invited. And if even the faintest whiff of unfairness taints their jokes, it’s time for viewers to reach for the remote and change the channel.

Which is why Leno’s oh-so-obvious partisanship is so perplexing. Even a dope knows the country is more divided politically now than it’s been in recent decades. So why in the world is Leno suddenly taking sides? Undoubtedly, Leno will brush aside the criticism with a lame explanation that he was there purely out of friendship with Arnold. [...]

But the real truth is that, for some time now, Leno has been leaning right and going soft on President Bush, judging by jokes on The Tonight Show.

Let us assume that popular entertainers are not on average more politically courageous than the rest of us, but that they do have a more highly developed sense of what their audiences want. Is not the most likely reason for Mr. Leno to be more openly leaning conservative that he understands his fans to have tilted that way?

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 9, 2003 10:29 PM

IIRC, Leno attended a big Clinton-Gore event during the run-up to the 2000 presidential election. The sounds of protest in the L.A. media about biased late night talk show hosts after that one rose to the level of crickets chirping...

Posted by: John at October 9, 2003 11:26 PM

The thing I'm finding funny is that Letterman seems to have become anti-Arnold because of Arnold's alliance with Leno (aka, "Bored Arnold Schwartzeneggar Supporter of the Night" two nights ago).

Leno and Letterman both always struck me as centrists who were committed to telling any funny joke regardless of ideology.

All the Leno jokes Ms. Finke quoted were funny. I don't remember Leno's batting average being that high in a long time.

Posted by: James Haney at October 9, 2003 11:40 PM

Although a Midwesterner by history, Letterman is definitely anti-Arnold. And it's not just to contrast with Leno.

Letterman's Manhattanite pro-Left ideology is pretty obvious, as shown by his monologues.

Posted by: John J. Coupal at October 10, 2003 1:33 AM

John's point is key. The media is so delusionally liberal that they see backing Reps/conservative pols as taking an active view. Doing the same (and overwhelmingly so) with liberal/Dems is just normal to them.

Posted by: MG at October 10, 2003 7:55 AM

From what I've seen over the past few months, Leno has definitely been aking more jokes about liberals and pretty few about Bush.

And I suppose he does lean conservative judging from how many times he has the unfunny Dennis Miller on his show.

Posted by: M ALi Choudhury at October 10, 2003 8:04 AM

It is one thing to joke about a President's foibles or even his "intelligence", but what has happened on the left with Bush is quite different. No mainstream comedian on network TV would want to go down the bitterness of the MoveOn/ANSWER/Sharpton/Kucininch path. And right now, with the 9 echoes wailing and pointing fingers, they are much easier targets than Bush, who is keeping a very low profile.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 10, 2003 9:31 AM

A few years ago I came across a list of things that in our PC world were still "safe to hate"-- Christians, McDonalds's, smokers, SUVs, etc. Also included was the line "the subjects of Jay Leno's jokes".

I guess people can change.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 10, 2003 9:41 AM

10 years or so ago, there used to be rumours that Letterman was a Republican or a Libertarian. I don't think he has a pro-left ideology. He still tells just as many Clinton/Monica jokes as Leno does, which was apparently Ms. Finke's evidence for Leno's crypto-conservatism.

I am finding Letterman's anti-Arnoldism of the past week or so a little off-putting, though. This may be what it takes to make me a Leno viewer (or to start going to bed earlier).

Posted by: James Haney at October 10, 2003 3:22 PM

I couldn't tell you about the political opinions of Leno's audience, but it's safe to say that most of it is drunk.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 10, 2003 4:06 PM

How can any conservative comedian not light into Arnold? He's a pig.

Posted by: oj at October 10, 2003 4:22 PM

My beef with Letterman this week is not that he's anti-Arnold but that he's not being funny about it. He needs to either start writing better anti-Arnold jokes or find something else to talk about.

Posted by: James Haney at October 10, 2003 5:16 PM

"How can any conservative side with Arnold, he's a pig?"

Leno summed it up best "Do I vote for the guy who groped a few women, or the guy who screwed the entire state?"

Posted by: MarkD at October 10, 2003 9:44 PM