Jay Leno will receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in the fall, a selection that one major film site dubbed “offensive.”
There are a number of reasons to find Leno’s selection to be offensive, ranging from the deeply significant to the petty. There’s plenty about Leno to mock, after all — the obsession with classic cars, the cheap man-on-the-street gags, and of course his role in the passive-aggressive maelstrom that was Conan O’Brien’s “Tonight Show” ascent and descent.
Leno likes old cars? So what? Since when is that something worth mocking? It’s a hobby. He can afford it. There’s great beauty in classic automobiles as well as ties to American culture.
The site is just warming up.
Indiewire says the prize has gone to the “right” people before. Does that mean Tina Fey and Ellen DeGeneres, two comics with thin track records compared to Leno’s singular achievement? Let’s see either survive–and thrive–in the most competitive environment in all of television, the late night landscape.
The problem is Leno’s “average Joe” persona, IndieWire explains. Translation: flyover country couldn’t stop giggling along with him.
The article slams Leno for not doing more to launch new talent while hosting The Tonight Show. Being on Johnny Carson’s couch could spark a career, and it did on many occasions. But Leno worked in a different era. Now, YouTube breaks new acts and stand-ups use social media to sell their funny business. Hard to compare two wildly different media landscapes.
And while Letterman has been Skyping it in for the last few years, growing crankier and more partisan every night, Leno never showed a hint of rust even during his final nights on the air.
To Indiewire, Leno lost the “edge” he showed in the 1980s and never got it back. Wanna talk edgy? How about being a late night comic willing to hold the President accountable while all of your peers are still telling jokes about the former Commander in Chief?
Leno spoke Truth. To. Power. during the first few years of the Obama administration. Now, it’s safe to do the same given the myriad blunders currently sinking President Obama’s poll numbers. Leno never got credit for it. Frankly, that’s offensive.
It’s Leno’s edgiest routine in a remarkable, award-worthy, career.