Jay Leno on Bill Cosby Scandal: Why is It So Hard to Believe the Accusers?

22 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Jay Leno on Bill Cosby: ‘I Don’t Know Why It’s So Hard to Believe Women’.

At the very end of an interview at NATPE/Content First, Jay Leno was asked about whether he thought the Bill Cosby situation was sad. “I don’t know why it’s so hard to believe women,” he responded. “You go to Saudi Arabia, you need two women to testify against a man. Just two nights into his tenure as a late-night talk show host, Larry Wilmore is doing something people in his position don’t often excel at: listening. Here you need 25.” Leno, who is being honored Wednesday evening (Jan. 21) with a Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award at NATPE, spoke about Cosby in the context of how media has changed more than comedy. “Stand-up is an art form that doesn’t really change,” Leno explained. “Comedy is pretty consistent. … The fat rich guy falling into the mud puddle has gotten laughs since the beginning of time.” It is the ability of comics to deliver their message straight to a global audience that has changed, he explained: “Now comedy cuts through all the bullshit.” Leno dated the beginning of the change to the Rodney King beating incident in 1991. “That’s the cool thing about the age we live in,” said Leno. “Rodney King was the first time we got the news unfiltered. The occupation traditionally demands a lot of punchlines: a set-up, joke, set-up, joke monologue, a scripted or pre-taped bit, an interview where the anecdotes have been discussed beforehand.

During the second episode of Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show, Wilmore devoted the entire show to Bill Cosby and the many sexual abuse allegations filed against him. The answer will be yes.” If there was any fear that he would not be able to match his night-show predecessors, Wilmore and his staff of writers quickly eradicated them. Wilmore, who’s stepped into the timeslot vacated by Stephen Colbert, is instead doing something that feels radical by letting other people talk without any punchline. Wilmore has always been a moralist with deadpan sensibilities, and both were on full, hilarious display Tuesday night. (The show can be seen on The Comedy Network in Canada.) At 52, Wilmore is 15 years older than Jon Stewart was when he began hosting The Daily Show, and 11 years older than Stephen Colbert was when The Colbert Report debuted.

That format isn’t particularly conducive to easy comedy at the best of times, but as cable news often shows, it’s also not particularly conducive to salient point-making, considering all the yelling everyone has to do to get heard. Wilmore took 30 minutes to discuss the story from all angles – the allegations, the influence of his television shows, the hecklers – and succeeded.

But because somebody would put the news out raw and unfiltered — which I think is fantastic — it was a great thing.” “I came into work one day and they said, ‘Oh, you’re being replaced.’ OK, I’m out. It is, after all, a comedy show, and how many laughs can you really get that way, especially when constrained by Comedy Central’s act breaks and 22-minute episode limit? I’m able to do this kind of social, political commentary with a racial twist at a time when we’re having our first black president,” he said last spring while promoting his book, I’d Rather We Got Casinos: And Other Black Thoughts. “Maybe I’m an outlier,” he said. All right, fine.’ “Then when it came time to go,” added Leno, “NBC said, ‘Eh, we don’t want you to go.’ Everybody on The Tonight Show, all your writers, everybody, is on different contracts. … I have 175 people working for me.

Although the accusations and conversations surrounding Cosby were reignited by Hannibal Buress, a black comedian, the conversation has been directed in what Cosby might consider “white media”. At one point, Lemieux talked at length about how she considered Cosby an idol when she was younger and went to Howard University partly because of the legacy of A Different World, while also expounding on the hypocrisy of Cosby’s habit of lecturing young African Americans on their behavior. I re-watched the episode on Comedy Central expecting Lemieux’s remarks would be edited down for time if nothing more, and while there’s undoubtedly some necessary compression, her comments were basically intact. We did as well as we could have hoped. “The thing that got me was — and I never saw this coming — suddenly scripted programmers were protesting: ‘Oh, Jay Leno you’re taking away our jobs.’ It never occurred to me that we would take away scripted. The most interesting part of the night came in the form of a roundtable discussion featuring a mix of comedians, writers and members of the media, including Jamilah Lemieux from Ebony magazine, writer Baratunde Thurston, and comedians Kathleen Madigan and Keith Robinson.

Cosby might be low-hanging fruit at this point on the Internet, but for a mainstream TV audience the stance still felt bold—and Willmore leading off his roundtable by asking why the world can’t believe women’s allegations even bolder. Lemieux made a pointed statement, saying, “I’m supposed to grow up and be a Huxtable.” The sentiment is one likely felt by many, especially black, middle class Americans. Lemieux, a graduate of Howard University (the influence for The Cosby Show spin-off A Different World) said she once felt like she let Cosby down when a past relationship did not work out and she became a single mother. Later, during the Keep It 100 segment, Wilmore asked Thurston if he would criticise Cosby even though it might brand him an Uncle Tom and make him “lose his black card”.

On his first night, he asked Cory Booker if he wanted to be president and jokingly tossed teabags at his waffling (“weak tea”) response, deflating his target without seeming hostile. On the second, he carefully managed some charged moments as comedian Keith Robinson stuck up for Cosby’s “unproven” guilt, cheerfully acknowledging Robinson’s agitation without letting it take over the debate. The lines between Wilmore’s comedy and his personality were blurred, such as when he said, “There’s a statute of limitations on the charges, but there’s no statute of limitations on my opinion and I’m telling you that motherfucker did it.” Looking at the first two episodes of the show, it is clear that Wilmore’s agenda as a show host will be singular, relevant and necessarily on-point.

The Daily Show’s interviews aim to be more thoughtful than a traditional late night show and cast a wider net for guests; still, their subjects are on TV to pitch something, so the discussion usually locks in on that. Colbert in character was a brilliant interviewer who could sucker his subject into agreeing to the most outrageous statements, or argue them into impossible corners, but as with so much of his show, the appeal was partly what a high-wire performance he was pulling off every night. He’s been managing this for years in scripted television: The incredible first season of The Bernie Mac Show, which he scripted with the late comedian, asked questions about the terror of parenting, and the complex nature of retaining one’s black identity as an upper-middle-class family, and never failed to be anything less than uproarious. Most recently, Wilmore worked on Black-ish, in its first season on ABC, which is taking on similar issues in a similar format 14 years later, partly because they remain so under-discussed.

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