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Late Night Author: Leno Not the Villain

On today’s edition of KCRW’s The Treatment with Elvis Mitchell, New York Times reporter and author Bill Carter expounded with trademark expertise on a subject he knows so well: the behind-the-scenes machinations of late night talk show hosts.

Carter suggested that the real culprit with regards to the Jay Leno-Conan O’Brien debacle is the way all comedians are addicted to the cocaine-like rush of performing in front of daily live audiences. He paints this picture of Jay:

“Leno has done this 46, 48 weeks a year, and then he does 180 stand-up dates on top of that. Who does that? And that’s why it’s kind of interesting when people say, ‘Jay manipulated this situation’, or, ‘He’s the villain.’ I don’t see it that way. He’s just a mono-maniac. He has one thing he wants to do in life, which is appear on television and tell jokes, every single night. And he will do anything to do that.”

Just how addictive is the late night joke-telling lifestyle? Six months after leaving The Tonight Show, recalls Carter, Johnny Carson started writing monologues again and performing them over the phone for his former producer Peter LaSalle. Eventually, LaSalle convinced Carson to feed the retirement routines to David Letterman, who occasionally would use one of the jokes.

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