Penthouse Retrospective

by Phil Berger Originally Published: June, 1993

Jay Leno

What gives with you and Arsenio Hall? Are there problems?

I don’t have any real problem with Arsenio. I like him. His is the first show to come along and seriously threaten in late night. I don’t know how that whole thing got out of hand. I honestly don’t know how it got so crazy. He seems to think I fired the first shot; I sort of thought he did. When we talked last August, we sort of agreed we each think the oth­er’s to blame. And since that time, we really haven’t talked that much about it. I ran into him in the fall and said, Listen, some things went down on “The Tonight Show” that I was not aware of. I apologize if you were done wrong or anything of that nature. Okay, we shook hands on it, but since that time, when comedians and other people have come to me and said, “Listen, I’ve got an offer to do Arsenio.” Well, do it, that’s fine. We’ll do you before, we’ll do you later. Let’s just try and put at least two or three weeks between appearances. And since that happened, I don’t think we’ve had any problems. I would like it to be a better relationship, and I think as time goes by it probably will.

On the other hand, you still have a problem with Andrew Dice Clay.

Is he a nice person? Is he a nice guy? Yes, he is a nice guy. But I didn’t like the public persona of the act. It both­ered me. I don’t know what’s worse, ac­tually being that way or pretending to be that way to make a living. I’m sure he doesn’t understand my viewpoint either. He’ll tell you it’s just a character he’s playing. Andrew is a nice guy. I knew him at the Comedy Store, and I genuinely liked him and told him once, I like you, but I hate your act. Of course, when you say you hate someone’s act, it’s like saying they’ve got an ugly wife.

How long do you want to continue doing what you’re doing now?

Oh, I’d like to do it for as long as they want me to do it, and then go back on the road and tell jokes.

How did you meet your wife? From what I heard, it sounds like maybe opposites attract?

Oh, it is opposites attract. I was always one of those people who tried to go out with women who were smarter than me because I have that much going for me, and anything else I can bring to the party. I met Mavis at the Comedy Store. She was in the audi­ence and I saw her. The Comedy Store is small, and in the back there’s the rest rooms, and eventually women have to go. So I followed them and waited out­side, and that’s kind of how we met.

You ambushed her outside the bathroom?

That is probably the correct word. Yeah. I mean, we are opposites, but we do like the same things. We have the same taste in furnishings and houses and things of that nature, and she’s very, very bright. I always take her advice or ask questions, and she reads a tremendous amount — at least 15 books a week. I’ve never met anyone who could keep up with her in literary discussions.

How’s life in Beverly Hills?

Well, it’s very odd living in California. One of the funniest things to me was when I was sharpening the lawnmower blade and my neighbor — he’s a writer ­was looking on with amazement. I’m just sharpening the blade for the mower, I said. He goes, “Yeah, you know how to do that?” He said it to me as if I were doing holistic medicine. It just makes me laugh that most guys out here don’t know how to do anything, can’t fix a car, can’t put a fan belt on.

So you’ve come a long way from where you started.

Oh, yeah. Although sometimes I feel caught between two different cultures. I’ll never forget the time I was onstage at Carnegie Hall, and in the fifth row there’s my mother, and there’s some guy behind her just laughing, and my mother goes, Ssh, ssh. I go, Ma, don’t ssh people. I mean, she’s unbelievable. The only person not laughing, but she turned around and went, Ssh, keep it down. “Ma, let the guy laugh, he bought a ticket. You didn’t pay to get in here.” And of course, it got a big laugh. But that’s what I mean. It’s just so odd to be here and have press agents — that you pay people to go out and talk about you, trying to spread ru­mors and things. There are certain things I could never explain.

Jay Leno reveals his personal experience with the not-entirely-glamorous world of the comedy circuit in his early days. His take on the late-night wars may surprise you.