Jay Leno compared an NBC television executive to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin last night, arguing the network is “expropriating” his property by easing him out of The Tonight Show.
During a stand-up appearance at the Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, Calif., the comedian said NBC’s plan to replace him with Jimmy Fallon is “illegal, un-American, and just plain socialist” and labeled NBC President Steve Burke an “Ivy League commie”.
The outburst occurred mid way though his weekly stand-up set when Leno uninterrupted a mildly funny but stale Monica Lewinsky joke to address the latest late night controversy.
“Have you guys heard about this NBC thing? Have you seen this? Have you heard about this? So basically what’s happening is this guy named Steve Burke, president of NBC, is trying to take me off the air and give my show away to some new guy out in New York.”
“And Jimmy Fallon’s a funny fellow. No question. But this Burke guy – he’s the type that never worked a day in his life. His daddy bought his way into Harvard. Then his daddy – a television executive – bought his way into Disney. And since then he’s bounced around TV, getting promoted because of his connections and his last name.
“And now this Ivy League commie who never worked for anything in his life is telling me that I have to give up my show? The show I built with my own bare hands?
“You know there was someone else in history who thought he could take away people’s private property. His name was Joseph Stalin. But at least Stalin had the decency to shoot you in the head before he f****d you up the ass.”
Leno, 62, then argued that his success hosting The Tonight Show over the past 18 years should allow him to choose the terms of his retirement.
“I mean what was The Tonight Show before I came along? Was it highly rated? Was it killing it in all the demographics? Can anyone ever remember the name of the host? I can’t.
“I built this show. I am this show. And if I want to retire when I’m 75, then I’ll retire when I’m 75. That’s just the way its going be.”
Despite Leno’s assertions, The Tonight Show was a successful late night franchise long before his arrival. It was founded in 1954 by Steve Allen and later featured legendary hosts like Jack Paar and Johnny Carson.
Leno’s latest display of obstinate and narcissistic behavior has stoked passions within the comedy industry. Famed late night host Larry Sanders blasted Leno in an interview with Entertainment Weekly yesterday, saying it was time for Leno to go.
“When The Network tried to give my job to Jon Stewart after 10 years I was a man about it and decided to move on,” Sanders said. “It’s been 18 years Jay, and you haven’t been funny in 14. Time to hang it up.”