Jay Leno is not afraid. Successful comedians aren’t–overcoming fear is part of the job. You’ll be criticized, you’ll bomb, you’ll get heckled. Comedians get back on the proverbial horse–called a stage. That never-quit attitude has worked out extremely well for Jay Leno. Derided as a middle-of-the-road entertainer, lacking the “edginess” of his chief late night rival David Letterman, Leno persevered and thrived in a role that was built to be thankless–he replaced a national treasure named Johnny Carson. Leno kept the job for 22 years.
Critics have sometimes been mystified by Leno’s success (he tended to wallop Letterman in the ratings). But something Leno said recently helps explain why he’s been so successful. Here’s Jay Leno on the Bill Cosby scandal: “I don’t know why it’s so hard to believe women. You [go to] Saudi Arabia and you need two women to testify against a man. Here you need 25.” It’s a comment that reveals a man who’s unafraid and straightforward and, most importantly, decent. That’s Leno using the basic human decency that was at the core of his popularity. He often just tells the simple truth.