Jay Leno Dishes on His Late Night Feud With David Letterman: “David Is Odd — He’s Just Awkward”
In a candid new interview, Jay Leno opened up about his ongoing feud with fellow late night host David Letterman. While recently speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Jay said their dislike for each other began when he earned the coveted Tonight Show gig over David when Johnny Carson retired from the program in 1992.
“Johnny was always very nice to me, but I think it’s fairly well known that Johnny wanted Dave,” the 67-year-old star said. “But Dave had a tough relationship with the network.”
Jay (left) and David (right). (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
“Of course, somehow I got this moniker of being this horrible person,” he added. Their conflicting personalities again came to light when David, 70, refused to help bid Jay farewell when the Tonight Show emcee retired in 2014. “You know, David is odd — he’s just awkward. I just think it would have been really awkward for him [to come to the show],” Jay said.
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“He said, ‘Nah, I’m just not comfortable. That’s your night. I don’t wanna do it.’ We may have talked over the phone. But he just was not comfortable with it. You know, anybody that knows Dave knows he’s quirky… to me, it was always quirkiness; it was never meanness,” he said.
When David similarly stepped down as Late Show host in 2015, Jay too stayed away from his rival’s finale episode. “I said, ‘Well, I kinda feel like Dave. You know, Dave didn’t do mine and it worked out fine, so, I mean, I think it looks like I’m trying too hard,'” he said.
Earlier this year, a tell-all book titled Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night revealed new details about Jay and David’s feud — and claimed David has always been “seething with unhappiness.”
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“[David] assumed one day he would get a call from [Johnny] or the head of NBC to offer him the [Tonight Show] job. It never happened,” author Jason Zinoman wrote in excerpts obtained by People.
“Rick Ludwin, head of late-night programming at NBC, respected [David] as a great entertainer but was skeptical that he could draw the broad swath of viewers that made up the Tonight Show audience,” Zinoman continued.
Jay (left) and David (right) in May 1992. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
“[Ludwin] also saw [him] as difficult to deal with. Whereas [Jay] was friendly and approachable, [David] was distant, even hostile,” the author wrote.
“[David then] decided that [he] didn’t like [NBC president] Warren Littlefield because [he] didn’t get the Tonight Show,” Zinoman revealed. The author additionally claimed David’s adverse reaction to Jay’s Tonight Show promotion wasn’t a display of uncommon emotions.
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“Everyone is born with an emotional thermostat,” writer Steve Young told Zinoman. “You can nudge it up and down, but it will always revert to its natural setting. His was that he was never truly comfortable unless he was seething with unhappiness at something.”
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