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Jay Leno Explains How Staffer's Reaction To Trans Joke Made Him Vow To 'Never' Tell One Again

Jay Leno Explains How Staffer's Reaction To Trans Joke Made Him Vow To 'Never' Tell One Again
Club Random Podcast/YouTube

By now, controversies over comedians telling jokes about trans people have begun to follow a well-worn pattern.

First, trans people object, then the comedian doubles down, then other comedians and the far-right back them up by saying some variation of "you can't joke about anything anymore," wash, rinse, repeat.

But comedian and former The Tonight Show host Jay Leno is an exception to what has become something of a rule of late.

During an appearance on Bill Maher's podcast "Club Random with Bill Maher," Leno explained how a staffer's reaction to one of his trans jokes made him understand the problem, and inspired him to vow to never tell such a joke ever again.

Jay Leno told Maher about the incident while discussing what he says has been the key to his success: "shutting up and listening" whenever he realized he might not be the "smartest person in the room."

This led him to hire what he called "brutally honest" staff for The Tonight Show's writers room during his 20 year tenure.

As he explained to Maher:

"When they would tell me the show sucked, I would go, ‘Why’d it suck?’ And they’d tell me why it sucked."

Leno's policy of listening to criticism apparently applied to crew members too, because when a technician criticized Leno for a joke about trans people he once told, he changed Leno's mind forever.

Leno said:

“I remember one time we had a guy in the basement who I didn’t know."
"I had done at the time a transgender joke, and I heard this guy was really hurt about it. So I go down to see him, and he explained the situation.”

Leno then promised the technician he would never again include jokes about trans people in his act, which Leno said had a huge impact on the staff member.

"He was so taken by the fact he could bring this show to a screeching halt because of his one complaint. He turned out to be the greatest lighting guy or sound guy, whatever he did, that we had."

You can watch the exchange below:

Jay Leno | Club Random with Bill

On Twitter, many applauded Leno for his self-awareness and openness to changing his act.

For his part, Maher responded to Leno's story with a joke about transgender people of his own. Maher has frequently made statements about transgender and LGBTQ+ people that the community has decried as transphobic.