Jay Leno opens up about the 'depressing' nature of late-night today

It's been almost four years since Jay Leno signed off of NBC's The Tonight Show, and to hear the former late-night staple tell it, he doesn't miss having that platform.

Currently the host of CNBC docuseries Jay Leno's Garage, the car enthusiast is still is an avid consumer of late-night fare, watching his Tonight Show successor Jimmy Fallon, NBC's Late Night With Seth Meyers as well as ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live and CBS' The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, among others.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Leno at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour, where he appeared Tuesday night to support Garage, to get his thoughts on how late-night hosts are covering President Trump, if he misses having a platform and if, like David Letterman, he'd want to return to the desk for a streaming show.

What do you think of how late-night has evolved to cover the Trump administration?

Late-night has always been pretty topical. The only trouble is now everyone has the same topic. (Laughs.) It's all depressing Trump stuff. And they all do a great job. Seth Meyers is a great writer; Jimmy Kimmel does a good job; Jimmy Fallon does a great job. I like Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah [on Comedy Central] and Samantha Bee [on TBS]. The trouble is that there's such negativity now. When I did the show, Bush was dumb and Clinton was horny and it was human problems. Now it's all anti-women, anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican, anti-Salvadorian; it's such a negative thing. God bless all the late-night hosts, they make it funny, but ultimately, it's depressing. You don't really watch late-night TV to get away from reality anymore; now it's more in your face. You laugh but then you go to bed going, "Oh man, the world is really pretty rough." And it's not, it's one man that causes all these problems! But then there's an upside. My wife was so depressed when Trump was elected but I said, "This will be the greatest thing that ever happens to the women's movement." Because even men who are apathetic are going, "Whoa, wait a minute." Harvey Weinstein was a catalyst but Trump really started [the groundswell]. Seven-hundred-and-fifty-thousand women showed up for that march on three days' notice. That was unprecedented.

I think it's ultimately a good thing; sometimes you have to hit people in the head with a two-by-four to make them aware. Everyone is so wrapped up in their own problems right now — "I'm into guns" or "I'm into this" — that they don't care about anybody else's. But now, even the worst guys in the world, guys who cheated every day, are saying, "Whoa, this is bad!" Ultimately, something good will come out of it. I always used to meet young women who would say, "I'm not a feminist or anything but I want to get the same money as a guy." I'd say, "What do you think it means to be a feminist?" Now they're beginning to understand. I like to see a silver lining and I think that's one of the good things that will happen. People are so incensed by Trump and what he does. But the country is actually OK — unemployment is down, people are working — so ultimately some good will come out of it.

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: Honoree Jay Leno poses for a photo with fans at the 2014 Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize For American Humor honoring Jay Leno at The Kennedy Center on October 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: (L to R) Alex Sykes, Wanda Sykes, honoree Jay Leno and his wife Mavis arrive at the 2014 Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize For American Humor honoring Jay Leno at The Kennedy Center on October 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: Honoree Jay Leno arrives at the 2014 Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize For American Humor honoring Jay Leno at The Kennedy Center on October 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: Honoree Jay Leno and his wife Mavis Leno arrive at the 2014 Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize For American Humor honoring Jay Leno at The Kennedy Center on October 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: Honoree Jay Leno arrives at the 2014 Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize For American Humor honoring Jay Leno at The Kennedy Center on October 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: Honoree Jay Leno arrives at the 2014 Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize For American Humor honoring Jay Leno at The Kennedy Center on October 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 11: Master of Ceremonies Jay Leno speaks onstage at the 2014 Carousel of Hope Ball presented by Mercedes-Benz at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 11: Recording artist Josh Groban (L) and master of ceremonies Jay Leno speak onstage at the 2014 Carousel of Hope Ball presented by Mercedes-Benz at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 11: Master of Ceremonies Jay Leno (L) and music producer David Foster speak onstage at the 2014 Carousel of Hope Ball presented by Mercedes-Benz at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 11: Master of Ceremonies Jay Leno (L) and Carousel of Hope Chairman Barbara Davis speak onstage at the 2014 Carousel of Hope Ball presented by Mercedes-Benz at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 11: Jay Leno and wife Mavis Leno arrive at the 2014 Carousel Of Hope Ball Presented By Mercedes-Benz at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 11: Comedian Jay Leno attends the 2014 Carousel of Hope Ball at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
BURBANK, CA - SEPTEMBER 24: Jay Leno poses for a portrait at his car garage on Wenesday September 24, 2014 in Burbank, CA. The longtime host of The Tonight Show, continues to tour extensively performing comedy. Leno is going to be the next recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. (Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
BURBANK, CA - SEPTEMBER 24: Jay Leno is interviewed at his car garage on Wenesday September 24, 2014 in Burbank, CA. The longtime host of The Tonight Show, continues to tour extensively performing comedy. Leno is going to be the next recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. (Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
LANCASTER, PA - SEPTEMBER 21: Jay Leno changes clothes after performing at the American Music Theatre on Sunday September 21, 2014 in Lancaster, PA. The longtime host of The Tonight Show, continues to tour extensively performing comedy. Leno is going to be the next recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. (Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
LANCASTER, PA - SEPTEMBER 21: Jay Leno performs at the American Music Theatre on Sunday September 21, 2014 in Lancaster, PA. The longtime host of The Tonight Show, continues to tour extensively performing comedy. Leno is going to be the next recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. (Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
LANCASTER, PA - SEPTEMBER 21: Jay Leno is interviewed before performing at the American Music Theatre on Sunday September 21, 2014 in Lancaster, PA. The longtime host of The Tonight Show, continues to tour extensively performing comedy. Leno is going to be the next recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. (Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 4610 -- Pictured: Host Jay Leno reminisces on his 22 year run as host of the Tonight Show on February 6, 2014. (Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 4610 -- Pictured: (l-r) Actor Jack Black, host Jay Leno and Kim Kardashian during Jay Leno's farewell song on February 6, 2014. (Photo by: Stacie McChesney/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 4610 -- Pictured: (l-r) Actress Carol Burnett, singer Sheryl Crow, actor Jack Black, basketball player Chris Paul, host Jay Leno, actor Jim Parsons, Kim Kardashian, and Oprah Winfrey during Jay Leno's 'Farewell Song' on February 6, 2014. (Photo by: Stacie McChesney/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 4610 -- Pictured: (l-r) Musical guest Garth Brooks and host Jay Leno on February 6, 2014. (Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 4610 -- Pictured: Musical guest Garth Brooks performs on February 6, 2014. (Photo by: Stacie McChesney/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
BURBANK, CA - FEBRUARY 06: Comedian Jay Leno appears onstage during a commercial break on the final episode of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" at The Burbank Studios on February 6, 2014 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON -- Air Date 01/28/1992 -- Pictured: Guest host Jay Leno on January 28, 1992 (Photo by Joseph Del Valle/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 30 -- Pictured: host Jay Leno during 'presidential poll' segment on June 30, 1992 (pictured) president William (Bill) Jefferson Clinton (Photo by Wendy Perl/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
BURBANK, CA - AUGUST 4: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton appears on the 'Tonight Show with Jay Leno' at the NBC Studios August 4, 2003 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 4570 -- Pictured: (l-r) Former President George W. Bush during an interview with host Jay Leno on November 19, 2013 -- (Photo by: Stacie McChesney/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Al Gore at 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno' at the NBC Studios in Burbank, Ca. Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2002. Photo by Kevin Winter/ImageDirect.
LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN -- Episode 1144 -- Pictured: (l-r) The new host of 'The Tonight Show' Jay Leno, host David Letterman on May 7, 1992 -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Comedian Jay Leno during an interview with guest host David Letterman on July 4, 1979. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank)
Jay Leno arrives on May 5, 2014 for a demonstration in support of Women's Rights and LGBT groups across from the Beverly Hills Hotel, owned by the Sultan of Brunei, who also owns the Bel-Air Hotel in Los Angeles, in Beverly Hills, California, which passed a resolution demanding May 7, 2014 the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, sell his hotel in the posh US city after he announced last week that he would push ahead with implementing sharia law, despite criticism both at home and internationally. The city council said they will send the resolution to the State Department asking Washington to 'take appropriate action to condemn the Brunei government's policies.' AFP PHOTO / Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 5: Comedian Jay Leno participates in a rally to protest draconian punishment of women and gay people announced by the Sultan of Brunei outside the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan, on May 5, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. The Sultan of Brunei is planning to implement a brand of Sharia Penal Code which calls for the stoning of people for various offenses including homosexual acts, adultery, sodomy and extramarital sexual relations, a move that has been criticized by The United Nations. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 5: Comedian Jay Leno participates in a rally to protest draconian punishment of women and gay people announced by the Sultan of Brunei outside the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan, on May 5, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. The Sultan of Brunei is planning to implement a brand of Sharia Penal Code which calls for the stoning of people for various offenses including homosexual acts, adultery, sodomy and extramarital sexual relations, a move that has been criticized by The United Nations. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 5: Comedian Jay Leno participates in a rally to protest draconian punishment of women and gay people announced by the Sultan of Brunei outside the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan, on May 5, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. The Sultan of Brunei is planning to implement a brand of Sharia Penal Code which calls for the stoning of people for various offenses including homosexual acts, adultery, sodomy and extramarital sexual relations, a move that has been criticized by The United Nations. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 5: Comedian Jay Leno participates in a rally to protest draconian punishment of women and gay people announced by the Sultan of Brunei outside the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan, on May 5, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. The Sultan of Brunei is planning to implement a brand of Sharia Penal Code which calls for the stoning of people for various offenses including homosexual acts, adultery, sodomy and extramarital sexual relations, a move that has been criticized by The United Nations. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
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Who are you watching? Who do you think is doing their best work right now?

I'm a joke guy; I don't really watch the celebrity interviews because I've interviewed all those people already. I watch Seth Meyers, Fallon, Kimmel. I do try to watch them all. I like to hear their jokes. That's the hardest thing to do — write a joke — and it's really hard when you have to write basically the same joke every night. I don't mean that in an insulting way. And they do it, they're really creative and really funny. It's not the lazy kind of version of a joke you've heard before. People are really writing good stuff and it's impressive.

Do you wish you had a platform right now to have your shot at Trump?

No, I don't. I had my platform and I enjoyed it for 22 years. But at some point, it turned into a young person's game. At my age, I can't pretend to know all of Jay-Z's music. When you're 40, you talk to the 26-year-old super models and it's sexy; when you're 67, you're the creepy old guy. At some point, you need to step back and say, "I did it." I was lucky enough to live in a time when we did very well and the show was No. 1 and then say thank you and step back. That's why I came back with something totally different [CNBC's Jay Leno's Garage] — it's nothing like what I did. This is a hobby and it's fun. It's what I like to do. I'm not a sports guy, so whenever I'd have athletes on the show, I'd have to fake it. "You were great in that third inning," [whispers to someone, "what did they do?"].

David Letterman is coming to Netflix with My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, a six-episode series that features him interviewing one guest for an hour, kicking off with former President Obama on Jan. 12. Would you want to do an in-depth interview series for a streaming outlet?

Not really. I like what I'm doing. To me, I like talking to regular people and seeing what I can draw out of them. I'm sure Dave will be excellent, he always does a good show. He's such a quirky guy, I'm sure it will be terrific. But it's too close to what I used to do. And lightning doesn't usually strike twice. For some people it can; Dave is talented and I’m sure it'll do fine.

And it's Netflix, so nobody will really know how many people watched — or didn't watch.

I don't get that. It's like you have these teams but we're not going to keep score, we're just going to play. What am I doing here? I don't get it, why would I want to play baseball and not win the game? It doesn't make any sense. I like getting the ratings the next day, you get yelled at if the demo wasn't here; I like that feel of it. It makes it fun.

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David Letterman through the years
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David Letterman through the years
NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: Julia Roberts catches up with Dave on the Late Show with David Letterman Thursday Dec. 12, 2013 on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 02: David Letterman appears outside the 'Late Show with David Letterman' at Ed Sullivan Theater on April 2, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Donna Ward/Getty Images)
MUNCIE, IN - NOVEMBER 26: David Letterman attends 'A Conversation With David Letterman And Oprah Winfrey' at Ball State University on November 26, 2012 in Muncie, Indiana. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - APRIL 3: Actor Johnny Depp chats with Dave about his new movie 'Transcendence' on the Late Show with David Letterman Thursday April 3, 2014 on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images)
LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN -- Pictured: (l-r) Comedian Jay Leno, host David Letterman -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JUNE 25: Marine Lance Cpl. William Kyle Carpenter, recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, is welcomed to the Thursday CBS Late Show by host David Letterman. (Photo by John Paul Filo/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JULY 30: Jay Carney and Late Show host David Letterman discuss White House press briefings during Wednesday's 7/30/14 taping in New York. (Photo by John Paul Filo/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 20: 'Late Show with David Letterman' host David Letterman plays a tennis match against Serena Williams at Ed Sullivan Theater on August 20, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)
THE VIEW - 5/12/14 After 17 incredible seasons and 10 different female panelists, Barbara Walters says farewell to live daily television with her final co-host appearance this week on 'The View,' the daytime program she created for ABC. 'The View' airs Monday-Friday (11:00 am-12:00 pm, ET) on the ABC Television Network. Today's special guests include David Letterman, Michael J. Fox and guest co-host, Jane Fonda. (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - APRIL 22: Stephen Colbert, future host of the LATE SHOW, talks to David Letterman when Colbert visits the LATE SHOW with DAVID LETTERMAN, Tuesday, April 22 (11:35 PM-12:37 AM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MAY 5: Peyton Manning and Late Show host David Letterman try their passing skills at moving New York City cabs with open windows during Monday's taping 5/5/14 in New York. (Photo by John Paul Filo/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - APRIL 22: Stephen Colbert, future host of the LATE SHOW, talks to David Letterman when Colbert visits the LATE SHOW with DAVID LETTERMAN, Tuesday, April 22 (11:35 PM-12:37 AM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 02: Talk Show Host David Letterman is seen on April 2, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by DVT/Star Max/GC Images)
Kennedy Center Honoree comedian and late night talk show host David Letterman arrives for an event in the East Room of the White House December 2, 2012 in Washington, DC. Obama and US First Lady Michelle Obama attended the event at the White House with the 2012 Kennedy Center Honorees before to celebrate their contribution to the arts before heading to the Kennedy Center for the honors program. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Actor Dustin Hoffman (L) chats with comedian and late night talk show host David Letterman during an event in the East Room of the White House on December 2, 2012 in Washington. US Presidenmt Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attended the event at the White House with the 2012 Kennedy Center Honorees to celebrate their contribution to the arts before heading to the Kennedy Center for the honors program. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON -- Pictured: (l-r) Announcer Ed McMahon, guest host David Letterman in the 1970s -- (Photo by: Gary Null/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 13: Stupid pet tricks with Late Show Host David Letterman on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012 on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Heather Wines/CBS via Getty Images) *** Local Caption)
NEW YORK - APRIL 17: Late night talk show host Conan O'Brien chats with Dave when he visits the Late Show with David Letterman, Thursday May 17, 2012 on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 19: First Lady Michelle Obama talks with Late Show host David Letterman during Monday's 3/19/12 taping in New York. (Photo by John Paul Filo/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 11: David Letterman jokes around with photographers at 'Late Show with David Letterman' at Ed Sullivan Theater on September 11, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/WireImage)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON -- Pictured: Guest host David Letterman on March 26, 1979 -- Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
American comedian and television show host David Letterman, circa 1980. (Photo by Maureen Donaldson/Getty Images)
Host David Letterman and tennis player Maria Sharapova during a taping of 'Late Show with David Letterman' at the Ed Sullivan Theater on April 21, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by Joe Kohen/WireImage)
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If you could interview anyone right now, who would you want to talk to?

I don't know. You never know. That's the fascinating thing, when you talk to men who walked on the moon and ask them, "What's it like to walk on the moon," and they respond with, "Cool!" And then you meet an astronaut like Story Musgrave, who is also like a philosopher who can make telling those stories so exciting and tell you things that you didn't even think of. You never know. I like to be surprised; I like when you meet regular people who have extraordinary things to say or have led extraordinary lives. The civilians were always my favorite guests on the Tonight Show because most showbiz people have their act. And that's fine. And the same with politicians. I watched Stephen Miller get interviewed by Jake Tapper the other day and he just kept repeating himself — he said the exact same two paragraphs that he said at the very beginning and just kept repeating himself! It's all talking points!  

 

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