Now that Jay Leno is caught in yet another psycho drama at The Tonight Show, I thought I would once again share my most bizarre celebrity encounter with Mr. Chin himself.
It was June 2005. Patrick Goldstein wrote an article in the Los Angeles Times Calender section critical of Michael Moore. Among other things, it stated that Moore claimed that Jay Leno and Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly were feuding with him. Goldstein seemed to think Moore was lying because O’Reilly and Leno’s producer denied the feud. I thought that was unfair to Moore – why believe them over him without real evidence on either side? - so I wrote a letter to the editor. It was printed in the Times on Saturday, 6/26 – below is the letter as it appeared:
Digging deeper on Michael Moore’s ‘9/11’
It seems Patrick Goldstein’s article attacking Michael Moore [“Truth Teller or Story Stretcher?” June 22] is as slippery as Goldstein claims Moore is. To refute Moore’s claims that Jay Leno and Bill O’Reilly have been feuding with him, Goldstein asks … Jay’s producer and Bill! And they … deny it! O’Reilly’s numerous falsehoods have been well documented, and Leno is the guy who basically kicked off our current Republican governor’s campaign.
Sorry, Patrick. You have to dig a little deeper than that. If Moore is the publicity-seeking goon his opponents claim he is, do you think he would really duck “The Tonight Show”? And if someone did a joke (with visuals, however ridiculous) about blowing up your house, would that perhaps make you feel … threatened?
Joel Canfield, Redondo Beach
Oooh, my first published letter to the editor. I thought that was about as exciting as it was going to get. Wrong.
The next day, Sunday, I spent about four hours cleaning the garage. After washing the silverfish off me, I was relaxing – when the phone rang. My wife answered it. She handed me the phone. I asked who it was. She said flatly, “Jay Leno.”
Yes, it was, in fact, TV’s Jay Leno. The first thing I said was that I had actually worked on the same show with him back in 1985 (not that closely – he was a comedy consultant and I produced the show’s promos). He didn’t really want to talk about that. He wanted to tell me, in a continuous relentless stream, about how he had had Janeane Garafolo and Al Franken on the show, and he wasn’t a Republican, and he didn’t know how people got this idea about him, and that he wasn’t feuding with Michael Moore, Michael Moore was the one that didn’t want to be on his show, Jay didn’t know why, he didn’t have a problem with Michael Moore (except he didn’t understand why Moore had to “cheat” in his movies, he’s already successful, why does he have to cheat, didn’t make sense), oh, and by the way, he’d had Janeane Garafolo and Al Franken on the show, and actually he’s an independent, as far as he’s concerned the presidential candidates are both rich white guys from Yale, his wife works for lots of liberal causes and, oh, did he mention, Janeane Garafolo and Al Franken had been on the show?
For the first minute or two, I was just plain shocked that Jay Leno, multi-millionaire wildly-successful network TV talk show host, had actually called Information to get MY number about a letter to the editor I had written. Why? Did he think I was going to write another letter to correct the first one? I tried to explain that I wasn’t really insulting him in the letter, I was irritated with the reporter and all I had said was what was true, Leno had seemingly aligned himself with Republican politics with the Arnold Schwarzenegger deal.
Well, Jay explained, Arnold was just a friend, friend since forever, and Jay just thought it would be fun to help him out, and that’s all there was to it, he’d had Al Franken on the show, and, y’know, when he had Hillary on the show, everyone accused him of being a Democrat, oh, and Letterman got in trouble with the Democrats last year over something else and…
I explained my point of view (and that of many others), that when he had associated himself with Arnold’s campaign, he had crossed a line, whether knowingly or not. It put him into the political debate and that’s why I thought my comments were legitimate. That was pretty much all there was to it, in my head.
But not in Jay’s.
My initial shock began to turn to annoyance, when I realized Leno was talking to me like a salesguy wanting to sell me a new long distance service instead of actually having a discussion. Over and over, he kept telling me that I misunderstood him (“Y’know, I have a kind of a reputation…people think of me as a nice guy or whatever…”), that he had no political leanings and…he had had Janeane Garafolo on the show! I tried to engage him and say it wasn’t personal. I said the political climate had made things a little crazy. I even told him that he had bought my wife a drink once in a comedy club pre-Tonight Show, because his routine had made her laugh so hard that she had actually peed her pants . No response. He kept trying to make the sale. And he kept saying, “I don’t know if you watch the show regularly or not, I don’t know if you watch the show…”
My wife was watching me in disbelief because I had been on the phone with him for ten minutes. He wouldn’t stop. He was telling me the same things over and over. Yeah, Janeane Garafolo. Even when I tried to joke my way out of it by saying I was going to take down the Nazi poster with his picture on it, THAT didn’t stop him (at least I tried to make a joke – he didn’t make any, which is VERY bad form for a comedian). And now I was in the uncomfortable position of wondering how to politely get Mr. Leno off the damn phone.
I entered Phase 3 – after Shock and Annoyance, I went to Analysis. As he kept trying to make me believe he was just an apolitical guy with a nightly audience of millions who just happened to show up at rallies for a Republican candidate for the governor of California, I quietly began to try to psychoanalyze him. If a heavyweight celebrity like Jay Leno feels he has to call some guy who wrote a letter to the paper just to explain himself, there are some serious issues brewing inside that giant chin.
That’s when I suddenly realized that during the phone call, I had never answered his repeated musings about whether I watched the show or not (I don’t, we’re Letterman people, and I didn’t want to get into THAT with him). Also, neither my wife nor myself had acted amazed and excited that he was calling us out of the blue - we had been working in the TV business for a long time and had many random celebrity encounters. Worst of all, I had not laughed once at any of his almost-jokes (like I said, there weren’t any actual ones). In other words, I had not given him one shred of validation. I had tried to be nice, I had tried to calmly explain why I wrote the letter and that was it.
Now I knew what I had to do. He was acting like a salesguy and I had to treat him like a salesguy. And, whatever else, the salesguy…has to make the sale.
So…I finally laughed at something he said. Yes, just because I decided I needed to laugh at something he said.
And the scary part is, as soon as I laughed, he quickly said his goodbyes. “Yeah, I was just making some calls and thought I’d call Joel Canfield in Redondo Beach, so you have a great day.”
I’d say “weird and interesting,” but not quite “great.”
Postscript to all this: Lisa wrote her first letter to the editor to the Miami Herald last year - and it got published too! And she got an angry phone call from the high school principal who got in trouble with the school board because my wife wrote about how none of the kids were getting textbooks anymore.
But at least Jay Leno wasn’t involved…