The most inoffensive, milquetoast king of late night comedy has emerged as a hero willing to speak truth to power.
Jay Leno is on his way out as the host of "The Late Show" on NBC. He’s leaving with both guns blazing, and they are aimed squarely at the most powerful institutions in the United States: television executives and President Barack Obama.
Leno’s monologues, long derided by fellow comics as the "Wal-Mart" of stand-up, took a sharp turn in March when rumors began circulating that he would be replaced by Fever Pitch star Jimmy Fallon.
"It's so bad, ‘The Biggest Loser' isn't just a TV show anymore … it's our new motto," Leno said after NBC finished last in network ratings. "It's so bad, NBC called Manti Te'o and asked him to bring in some imaginary viewers."
But his most biting commentary has come at the president’s expense.
"He’s such a good speaker, he almost believed it himself. And then his pants caught fire," he said of Obamacare in November. It took PolitiFact another month to catch up.
When Bill Clinton urged the president to restore the millions of individual insurance plans canceled because of Obamacare, Leno sniped, "that’s when you know you’re in trouble, okay, when Bill Clinton is lecturing you about commitment."
"If you like your uranium, you can keep your uranium," he said of John Kerry’s Iran negotiations.
While his famously cynical rivals, David Letterman and Jon Stewart, have been content to conduct softball sit-downs with the president—or in Fallon’s case, to hold Shirley-Temple-sing-and-dance-alongs with him—Leno has continued to be, well, a comedian.
The biggest winner of all has been NBC, which has dominated late night ratings during Leno’s mean streak even as it hemorrhages viewers elsewhere. Despite his booming ratings he’s out of a job come 2014, proving that NBC still has not recovered from the departure of legendary former CEO and 2013 Man of the Year Jack Donaghy.