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Larry King Live

Jay Leno Discusses Political Comedy With Dan Rather

Aired October 19, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: Tonight, Dan Rather, anchor and managing editor of the "CBS Evening News," guest hosts. Jay Leno of "The Tonight Show" joins him for the hour to talk about the serious business of political comedy. It's all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

DAN RATHER, GUEST HOST: Thanks for joining us. Good evening, everybody. Larry King is off tonight. I'm Dan Rather -- at least I used to be -- sitting in for Larry. You know, political comedy produces a lot of laughs, but it's also being taken very seriously this election season, far more than any previous presidential campaign season. Late night shows are under particular scrutiny, campaigns monitor the joke content of opening monologues almost as anxiously as they check poll numbers.

Jay Leno, host of NBC's "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," is a man whose quips really count. He joins us now, live and direct from Burbank, California.

Jay, thanks for being with us.

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Why, thank you, Dan. I'm talking in my news voice, this is very important -- is there some law you have to wear suspenders when you host this show? I have never seen you in suspenders.

RATHER: You have a contract with Larry.

LENO: I see.

RATHER: You do the show, you wear the braces.

LENO: I see.

RATHER: And by the way, Larry insists on calling them braces, these are not suspenders, these are braces, as you...

LENO: I'm sorry. I see.

RATHER: And I know you are wearing yours, so you can take your coat off and just show us your suspenders. It's OK, Jay.

LENO: I wish I was.

RATHER: Have a good show tonight? LENO: Tonight was good, tonight was good. When I -- well, you know, these political debates are going on, so it's great fodder.

RATHER: Well, give us a preview. What's the best joke on the show tonight?

LENO: Oh, I don't know what best -- oh, the best joke on the show tonight -- I don't know. You know, what you try to do is you try to -- you know, you analyze what the candidates say and you try to find the best -- my favorite joke, at least from last night, was -- you know, Gore keeps talking about this wealthiest 1 percent, and you know what Bush and Gore call the wealthiest 1 percent: Daddy. That was my favorite, I just like that joke.


RATHER: Not bad.

LENO: Not bad. RATHER: Now, did you write that -- you wrote that yourself, of course?

LENO: No. I'm sure one of the writers wrote it and I contributed something to it. But, I mean, when you do a show like this, obviously you don't -- I mean, when you do your nightclub act you tend to write most of that yourself; when you do a show every day, you can't write it yourself, in the same way you can't write all the news yourself. I'm sure there are some stories you do, but, you know, people contribute and that's how it works.

RATHER: Jay, a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press recently showed 47 percent of those between 18 and 29 get information about presidential campaigns from late-night comedy shows, and there is, I think, a new bit of research out today by MTV, and Nickelodeon, and CBS News, pretty much the same thing and echoing that.

How do you feel about that?

LENO: Well, I mean, I don't think you get news, you get a little bit of information. I mean, the fun thing about comedy, whether it's me, or Jon Stewart, or Letterman, whoever is doing it, it does tend to cut through the spin. I mean, we live in an era when nobody tells lies anymore, they tell misstatements.

You know, when a comedian walks out and goes, you see that candidate, he was lying, ladies and gentlemen! That's not even a joke, but people will laugh because you have cut to the heart of it.

I mean, I remember when Colin Powell had that press conference during the Gulf War, and someone asked him, what was your intention with the enemy, and he said, we're going to go there and kill them, and people went, whoa, you mean -- you don't mean terminate with extreme prejudice -- no, no, kill them, and it -- a good joke will tend to get right to the heart of the matter and I think people like that. They seem to appreciate that. RATHER: Well, given the importance that shows such as your own have taken on in this presidential campaign...

LENO: You know -- but you know, there is your mistake. I don't think they have taken on any importance, you don't change anybody's mind with comedy, you just reinforce what they already believe. People have a preconceived idea of a candidate from something that they have seen on the media.

For example, like George Bush, I don't think anybody had an opinion until that Boston reporter, fairly or unfairly, caught him with those names that -- you know, who is the sister of the brother- in-law of the leader of Kyrgyzstan? You know, and -- well, nobody knew those questions. But rather than -- because he looked like he was attempting to answer them and looked awkward, boom, that set in motion just the whole series of events which led to the situation you have now, where people are doing jokes about him. RATHER: Now, as another example, would or would it not be, what shows such as yours did with Vice President Al Gore's performance in the first so-called debate, where after that a lot of jokes were made about his huffing and puffing off to the side -- would that be another example?

LENO: Yes, I think that's it. I mean, you watch it and you try to find flaws or things you can have fun with. I mean, obviously, one candidate is going aww, oww -- you know, I didn't know whether he was having sex or listening to debate. I -- it was actually very difficult. I said, what is he doing over there? What is -- is Tipper -- is she in there? Are they making out again? What's going on?


RATHER: We -- let's talk about responsibility. When you do jokes like the one you are doing tonight, and your favorite from last night, do you now have a sense of responsibility about that, or do you say, to hell with responsibility, we are just going to have a good time?

LENO: Well, I mean, your responsibility is -- I mean, what we try to do is we always quote the source. We'll say "The New York Times" said today, or Dan Rather reported last night, or Tom Brokaw, or whoever it might be, so people know we are not making up the story. I mean, the news doesn't start with us, we just watch you guys, see what you do.

You know what we do? We watch the news and then we try to do a funny version of the newscast that you just did. We do -- with the exception of, of course, horrible stories like the Cole, or a plane crash, or something where lives were at stake -- obviously, we don't do that kind of material. But when it's something silly like a candidate embarrassing himself, or trying to wiggle out of a lie, or not answering a question directly, or, I don't remember anything I did before 1974 -- really? You were flying jets. You don't remember that? You know, I mean, that's -- it seems like open season.

RATHER: Well, what about the claims of comedic neutrality, if we can use that phrase, sort of a 12-cylinder phrase -- are you an equal opportunity offender...

LENO: I think so.

RATHER: ... or do you sort of keep score, you kind of say, well, we have had too many Gore jokes lately, we need to go on Bush?

LENO: We try to have a sense of balance. I mean, there was a time about two weeks ago before the debates when I realized, you know, we got more Bush jokes here than we have Gore jokes, and then luckily, you know, all those stories about the exaggerations, and the crowded classroom, and all those kind of things, so that luckily opened up another area. But we do try to have a sense of balance. I don't think anyone can truly figure out my politics from watching the show. If they can, then you fail.

RATHER: Well, I want to follow up on that, but we need to take a break. Dan Rather...

LENO: All right, I'll wait here.

RATHER: All right. Well, I will be here wearing these same clothes when we come back.

Dan Rather sitting in for Larry King, with Jay Leno. We'll be back, so stick in here with us.


LENO: Governor Bush, did you see Al Gore kiss his wife at the convention?

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: It was a horrible situation. No one liked to see it on our -- you know, on our TV screens.


LENO: Next topic.

Governor Bush, I understand the students in Texas are among the worst educated in the country. What are your plans for them?

BUSH: They're going to be put to death. And I -- it's going to be hard to punish them any worse after they get put to death.





LENO: Let me ask you this, how did you feel about Gennifer Flowers posing nude?


LENO: How about Elizabeth Ward?

GORE: Yes, I voted for it, supported it.

LENO: Paula Jones?

GORE: That was a mistake.


LENO: Janet Reno?

GORE: Of course, and that again -- no, I think that that was ill considered.



RATHER: Dan Rather back live with Jay Leno. The two of us are sitting in for Larry King, who's off tonight.

Jay, when the candidates come on your show, do you offer to write some humorous material for them? Do they accept if you do?

LENO: You know, usually, I say, look, as you probably know, we're making fun of you, and they know. And I say, you want to get back at me? Is there anything -- you know, I can be the butt of a joke. I mean, sometimes, you'll make a couple of suggestions. A lot of times the candidates are pretty prepared.

But I let them know that, you know, they're here. We're not here to embarrass them or humiliate them or anything. We do that after they leave, because we're basically cowards.

But I mean, when they're here, here's their chance to give a couple shots at me or maybe they have, you know, some goofy stunt they want to do or something like that.

It's not that you give the material. Like when George Bush was on the show with us, we did a little "Jeopardy!" sketch with Alex Trebek, where the show opened with Bush going: "Who's Boris Yeltsin? Who is Thomas Jefferson? Who is Prince Charles?" And then it looked like he didn't know, and then you cut to the reverse, and it was, you know, Alex Trebek asking him the matching answer. So kind -- that was at the time he got in that little bit of trouble there and it took the edge off and it got a laugh, and it seemed to relax him and worked out OK.

RATHER: Fairly or unfairly...

LENO: Unfairly, let's go unfairly.

RATHER: Well, I'll go unfairly then...

LENO: All right.

RATHER: ... as uncharacteristic as it is, but show business people in general, and particularly comedians, are widely perceived by many politicians to be, quote, "liberal, left-leaning." Do you agree with that, that it's a fact?

LENO: No, I don't agree with that, because I think most comedy tends to be conservative. You have to come from a conservative place to sort of be of funny, because you start out kind of straight and then you're outraged at the various things that happen around you.

I don't know if it's necessarily Republican conservative as it is moral. I mean, the jokes we did about Clinton and Monica Lewinsky I think were jokes that came from a conservative point of view, and you're making fun of this guy. I mean, I -- you know, the funny thing is when you do this job and there's a Democrat in office, you get these letters like, "Well, I hope you and your Republican buddies are happy that you're humiliating our president." And then when, of course, it flips around then it becomes the other side.

But you know what it is? If you're doing jokes about moral issues like, oh, like the death penalty -- we've done an awful lot of jokes about Bush -- what is it? -- 150 people I've executed. I think the joke was they don't even call him a governor anymore. They call him the fryer or the colonel because he's fried so many people. I think that's what the joke was.

Now, I don't know if that's a liberal joke or conservative joke, but you're talking about executions and being put to death and -- but I'm off the issue, aren't I?

RATHER: No, not really. In fact, I was going to play that line back to you. I'm glad you brought it up. Jay Leno: "Bush has fried so many convicts they shouldn't call him governor. They should call him the colonel."

LENO: Right.

RATHER: Now, question...

LENO: Yes.

RATHER: You've been doing the show, it's been "The Late Show," "The Jay Leno Show" for how long? Ten years?

LENO: No, no, no. I've been hosting now eight years.

RATHER: Eight years.

LENO: It just seems like 10, if you've been watching.

RATHER: Well, in the 1996 campaign, even that recently, could you, would you, did you tell a joke about death, or is this something brand new that you can now joke about death? LENO: You know what it is? Whatever the candidates -- for example, up until Bill Clinton, up until the Monica Lewinsky scandal, if I had said to the NBC censors, listen, I have an oral sex joke in the monologue...


... shut him down, we're off the air, thank you, bloop, please stand by. You couldn't even say it. You couldn't do it on the news. I mean, when I was growing up, I couldn't imagine Walter Cronkite: Well, the president had oral sex today and that's the way it is.


You know, those things didn't happen. But because -- well, you know, it's a bit like, well, daddy said it's OK so we can do it. And that's what it was. That's what you guys were reporting. I mean, there was nothing funnier to me than watching the three anchors going "The president engaged in...


... just trying to figure out how to say this. Well, it was OK for you guys to say, well, then it was OK for us to say. So thank you, President Clinton.

RATHER: Well, I want to follow up on that, that you -- there was a time when I know among comedians in general you said the rule of the road was don't make any jokes about death. We're well beyond that. Now, when...

LENO: Yes, but you're not making jokes about death and you're not making jokes about the people that die. You're making jokes about a situation where, you know, if you execute 150 people, what are the odds that there might be some question with some of them? And that's what you're questioning. You're questioning the judgment, you're questioning the system that allows you to execute that many people. And you're questioning that. You're not making fun of anybody that's actually died.

I mean, good heavens, we never ever, nor would we, have ever done a joke about the terrible Oklahoma City bombing or Flight 800 or any of those types of things. But when you have a situation where people are running for office and they're being executed weekly, you go, hey, wait a minute, is this political? And you're talking more about the system than the actual, you know, the act of people being put to death.

RATHER: Next, I want to talk about Jay Leno's own personal political opinions, and that will be coming up after we take this break. So stay right here with us.


LENO: And there was a heckler, there was a heckler. Oprah never had that but it's true. Did you see way Bush handle it? Bush is tough. He is a tough guy, especially with hecklers. We'll show yesterday on the show. You'll see how he dealt with it.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You need more scrapers and painters and doers...


BUSH: Yes.


WINFREY: When was...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... Democrats' policy of bombing and sanctions that killed...


WINFREY: I'm sorry you can't ask that question, sir






LENO: We're going to report to you on things that no one ever said. No one has ever said these things to famous people.

For example, no one has ever said to George W. Bush, "Mr. Bush, you control the board we go into final jeopardy."

Never said. Never. Never happened.

No one has ever said to Al Gore: "Forget the issues. You'll win with this election with raw charisma."


RATHER: Dan Rather in New York, Jay Leon in Los Angeles, sitting in for Larry King.

Jay, let's talk about your own political opinions...

LENO: Uh-oh.

RATHER: Do you mind -- do you mind sharing with us what your political preferences are?

LENO: Yes, I do, because I never give my political preferences. I don't think you could -- you know, that's the biggest mistake you can make.

You know, we had a young comedian on the show once about six years ago, and he walked out and his opening line was "You know, I'm a liberal Democrat," and then he proceeded to do a bunch of jokes about Bob Dole. And they kind of worked. I said to him afterwards, I said: "You know, we'll figure out your politics, but your job is not to inform, your job is to make jokes. If people get some information out of your material later, well, that's very nice, but that's not what you're here to do. You're not a news man. You're a comedian." And that's -- that's what my job is.

I mean, if there's a candidate I like but they've done something silly and there's a good joke there, I have to go for the joke.

RATHER: But you know, as informed citizen, you're bound to have political opinions. So if you're not going to tell us what the opinions are, let me ask the question -- a question this away.

LENO: Go ahead.

RATHER: Do your political opinions, your feelings on issues, for example, do they affect your humor?

LENO: I think they affect your humor in terms of how you look at -- you know, you can look at sort of moral law and God's law and then you can look at human law. You know what I mean? I mean, God's law, "Thou shalt not kill," committing adultery -- blah, blah, blah -- those don't have any political affiliation. So how you choose to do your jokes about that, that's fine.

When you get into, well, my tax plan will give seniors, you know, that's all just manmade gobbledygook to me that you can make fun of either side on that.

But I think most people tend to follow sort of, like speeding -- that's a manmade law. But like I said, killing or whatever, that's a God law, that's a moral law. And you can go either way on that: Those don't have any political affiliation.

Did I dodge that -- did I dodge that well?

RATHER: Very well.

LENO: Yes.

RATHER: It's what another Larry King, who wrote a show called "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," called the old side-shuffle, which politicians are good at. But you did well. Let me ask you this...

LENO: Well, see, that's -- that's another reason why comedians like -- why people watch comedians to get a joke, because politicians do the side-shuffle so well. You know, I mean, you watch the news now and you can't -- you know, like when President Clinton says: What do you mean by is? -- is is.

What is that? How can you not do a joke about that? When you do the joke, it cuts to the quick. If politicians told the truth, we would all be out of work.

RATHER: Now, I know that you have expressed in the past some admiration for President Clinton's comic skills. Tell me about that. And you do still share that? Or has he lost his touch?

LENO: No, he is very good. When he leaves, it is like -- it'll be like when Fonzie left "Happy Days." You know, we are stuck with Potsie Ralph Malph. You know, they're OK, but they're not the Fonz. Clinton is the Fonz. That is the golden age of comedy. What's better than that? Fat girls under the desk. Oh, come on, you are not seeing that again in our lifetime.

RATHER: What did you say: fat girls under the desk? I don't understand that remark.

LENO: You're not going to see that again. Now, you are side- shuffling. Look at that. You're doing it. Excellent! Excellent side-shuffle by Rather. Rather fakes left. When you repeat the question, you know you've got them. You heard what I said. You only repeated it because you didn't know what to say. Excellent side- shuffle by Rather. Boom, boom! One. Go!

RATHER: Guilty as charged. Guilty as charged.

Jay Leno, out there somewhere tonight, there is at least one -- I suspect there are a number of young people saying to themselves: You know, I really want to run for office. I feel the urge. I'm going to do it. Let's talk about, for someone who is coming on your show, or coming on "David Letterman," as George Bush is later tonight.

LENO: Right.

RATHER: What kind of advice would you give them for appearing on a "Jay Leno" show, or a "David Letterman," or any of these late night shows? Let's do a little coaching here.

LENO: What advice would I give a politician?


LENO: Oh, well, I would tell them that, you know: We all know your platform. We all know where you stand. I want to know about your family life. Do you have kids? Are you happily married? Tell us about the rough days of being a politician. Did you ever get booed off the stage? Did people just throw things at you? Did they chase you? Did you ever lose an election? What happened? How did you feel about it?

You know, we try to find more the human angle, I guess.

RATHER: Jay Leno, stay here with us.

LENO: All right.

RATHER: We need to take another break. And for those of you in the audience, we will be right back.


GORE: I have some advice for you on your part of the show too.

LENO: Really. Really.

GORE: Yes. I think that -- I think you ought to loosen up a little bit.

LENO: Yes, you think I'm a little stiff?

GORE: Yes, I mean, you know, maybe think about losing the coat and tie every once in a while.

LENO: Really. Really.

GORE: Yes.

LENO: Kind of lay back a little bit.

GORE: Yes.

LENO: Now, do you ever watch -- obviously, you have important things do. But do you ever go around at night, and your name happens to come up in a joke. How does that go over?

GORE: Actually, we have kind of a family ritual. We just sit around the dinner table every night around 11:30 and make jokes about you.

LENO: Really! Oh man!




LENO: Now, let me ask you something. Now, I know -- and you've talked about this in the past. You would get kind of wild. And I know you used to drink a bit when you were a young man. See, like to me, like Al Gore looks like he has been running for president since he was in the eighth grade.

BUSH: Yes. LENO: But when you are out at frat party and having a good time at Yale and partying with the boys, were you ever thinking: "You know, I don't want to have that beer. I might be running for president"? I mean, did that cross your mind. Did it ever?




RATHER: Dan Rather, sitting in for Larry King with Jay Leno.

Jay, does getting to know the candidates make it difficult to mock them when they are in your presence, and/or after they leave?

LENO: Oh, yes. Yes, it does. Actually, it does make it a little bit tricky. But, you know, I mean, the real test to me -- I like comedians that can do a joke to someone's face. You know, that was Johnny's great gift. Johnny could do a joke the people know there was no malice behind it. It was just a joke. And I remember we had a candidate on one time, and he was furious about another comedian. It wasn't Letterman or anybody.

It was just -- you know, just a guy he had seen on a show -- and furious that this guy had done this incredibly mean-spirited joke. And, you know, if you are picking up foibles that these people have and just sort of, you know, just pricking them a bit, they don't seem to mind. You know, I have said this a million times. But dealing with candidates is like being with the Mafia: As long as you don't go after the families, you are OK.

RATHER: Well, let's assess the comic chops, the comic abilities of some of the current politicos. We've talked about Bill Clinton. What about the two tickets, maybe Dick Cheney for example -- has the reputation of being a pretty funny fellow.

LENO: Oh, Dick Cheney, a million laughs. Oh, is there anybody funnier? When you see him and Bush together, doesn't it look like Bush has been sent to the principal's office? Isn't that what you think? You go: Uh-oh, Bush in trouble again. They have got Cheney standing back there behind him. Oh, a million laughs.

RATHER: On the other hand, Cheney was -- he was pretty quick with the counterpunch when he and Lieberman had their one joint appearance on television. You know, Lieberman put in a little shot about making all those millions in the oil business, as we would say in Texas. And Cheney came back pretty quick with him, saying: Well, we will try to fix it where you can get out and make a little money, Joe.

LENO: Well, he was -- yes, he was funny. He was good, I mean, these men are not idiots -- I mean, regardless of whatever we might say.

RATHER: Well, there's a bulletin. There were a lot of people who were a little unconvinced of that the longer campaign goes. But anybody else you see on either one of the tickets that you think has some comic possibilities?

LENO: Lieberman seems -- Lieberman seems kind of funny. He seems to be able to tell a joke -- maybe too well. He is pretty good. You know, and Gore has been a good sport. Actually, both Gore and Bush have been pretty funny. They have pretty good sports about this.

RATHER: What about the argument, Jay, that goes along the lines: Listen, it is one thing for a candidate to show a sense of humor. But the candidates now going into quote comic pandering. And it is not dignified, that they have gone too far. Do you agree or disagree with that?

LENO: Let me ask you a question -- I completely disagree. I mean, is it any more different -- you know, this just the electronic version of going into Little Italy and eating the calzone. "Hello, my Italian friends!" And then you drive over the Spanish section. You put on the sombrero and you have a taco. "Hi, everybody. Hey, give me that bagel."

You know, I mean, how many times have you seen that when people run for office? You know, they put on the steelworkers hat. Then they go out there and they act like it's the -- so, we are just another version of that. That is all we are. It's just a microcosm of all that campaigning stuff.

RATHER: Jay, I want to come back to something we discussed, at least touched on earlier. And that is that, at one time, death was kind of out of bounds. But you can, to a certain extent, at least joke about the death penalty now.

LENO: Yes.

RATHER: There was a time nobody would talk about the kind of scandal we have had in Washington recently. Now it's fair game. Do you consider anything out of bounds anymore?

LENO: Yes, a lot of things are out of bounds. Anything that happens to a candidate's children. I have never done a Chelsea joke. I have never done a joke about Bush's daughters, or even Laura Bush, because she was -- she seems to want to stand back and not say anything. And, you know, you sense that they don't want to be in this. So, OK, so you don't do those jokes. I don't think I have done a joke -- well, when Gore had his children -- I had the Gore children, the two daughters on.

And we did some jokes about them because they were there. But that is pretty much the rule. I mean, it's -- you know what it is? It is really just sort of common sense. If something is on the front page of the "New York Times," I don't know how you can ignore it.

RATHER: Ah, but what if Vice President Gore calls you -- I have no reason to believe he has or will -- calls you and says: Hey, Jay Leno, you said you that Laura Bush -- Laura Bush was out of bounds for you. On the other hand, with Dan Rather and others, you have joked about me and my wife Tipper Gore. Where is the fairness here?

LENO: Well, I think the fairness is that the -- him and Tipper making out at the convention, you know -- I mean, that was -- that was a news story, that was a news event that she was part of. So, I mean, we never said anything about Tipper. You just -- we did jokes about the event and the jokes were about him. But hey, if he was really upset and did call me, I would give it -- I would pause for a moment and rethink maybe, gee, did we step over the line here? And I would discuss it with people, and then I'd probably do what I was going to do anyway. But we would think about it.

RATHER: Well, speaking of a pause, time for us to take another pause, Dan Rather with Jay Leno, pinch-hitting tonight for Larry King. Some other folks are going to join us here along the trail. And we hope you keep the dial right where it is.


LENO: And do you believe how friendly they are to each other? I want to see them fight, don't you?


And I understand both candidates have reached what they call a gentleman's agreement for tomorrow night's debate, like if Bush can't remember a fact or a detail, Al Gore will make one up for him. So this is...


... working together...




LENO: Now, according to the latest polls, Al Gore is the handsomest, smartest most -- most -- what? This doesn't sound like the joke I wrote. Who's the cue card guy?

Oh, look, who the cue card guy is.

GORE: Keep going, Jay.


LENO: Ladies and gentlemen, it's Al Gore.



RATHER: Welcome back. Dan Rather pinch-hitting for Larry King tonight. We've been talking political comedy with Jay Leno, host of "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" on NBC. Jay has been with us for the first half hour of the program or so. We'll be here for the rest of the hour, and Jay will be with us. But also joining us now from Washington, a very distinguished historian, Michael Beschloss, editor of "The American Heritage History of the Presidents." He's also an ABC News analyst and commentator for "The NewsHour" on PBS, but we won't hold that against him.

Welcome, Michael. Glad you could be with us.


RATHER: With me here in New York, CNN's senior political analyst and syndicated columnist Dick Cheney. No, a Mr. Cheney look-alike...


Bill Schneider, Bill Schneider.


Thank you both for being with us.

First of all, Bill, what do your latest CNN polls show?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Show a 10-point lead for George W. Bush over Al Gore, which is pretty substantial. It doesn't mean it's a sure thing, but it does mean the debates, which Bush didn't want to participate in -- remember? He tried to get out of the debates, have his own format. He did pretty well by them.

RATHER: Bush with a 10-point lead. Do you believe that?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I believe it may be true right now, but I don't believe it's necessarily predictive of what's going to happen three weeks from now.

RATHER: True or untrue, this has been a particularly bad year for the polls given what -- they were wrong in the primaries, ours, CBS's, as well as some others? Wrong in the primaries, been up and down -- do you think it's been a particularly bad year for polling?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I'll put it this way: If the voters don't know what -- which way they want to go, then it can't be our job to straighten them out. They really are going back and forth, I think. People are two-minded about this race.

A lot of people look at Gore and they say, well, things are going pretty well, I could vote for him, but then he irritates them, so they shift to Bush. And then they wonder, well, is he really up to the job, is he big enough for the job? They change their minds. The voters are going back and forth, and the polls are just reflecting that.

RATHER: Jay Leno, with these polls bouncing around, you know, George Bush up by 10 or 19 points one day, and three or four days later Gore up by three or four, have you joked about this very much?

LENO: Well, we have, because everyone perceives that Gore has won the debate. You know, we're the only country that is suspicious of intellect. You know, if you go to any other country -- you go to England, you watch -- well, let's bring on Professor So-and-So from Oxford, well, let's bring on this guy from Cambridge. We're the only country that goes, let's go to the truck driver out by the Triborough Bridge. Well, last night...

Somehow, the common man seems to be the voice of wisdom in our country, much more so than people that have studied, you know, studied an issue and spent time in it. So consequently, when Bush kind of doesn't seem to know and Gore's going, "Ooh, ooh, I know, I know," we're suspicious of the guy going "Ooh, ooh" because, ooh, he's an egghead, I don't know if I trust him. It's an odd, odd situation.

RATHER: Michael Beschloss, as a historian, you read the newspapers every day, of course, and you see these polls bouncing around like they have this year, what's your reaction to that?

BESCHLOSS: Well, I was going to say just for a second Jay is absolutely right. You see why so few historians get elected president.

But you know, the polls are bouncing and that happens in history. It usually happens when they're not great issues that divide the American public.

If this were 1940 with a big issue like what do you do about Adolf Hitler, people were pretty much decided they could choose between Franklin Roosevelt and Wendell Wilkey. They didn't really bounce back and forth very much.

The same thing was true in 1980, although it broke for Reagan at the very end after his debate with Jimmy Carter. Nonetheless, these were two candidates who had very different views about how you deal with a recession, how you deal with hostages in Iran, and also the Soviets marching into Afghanistan.

When there's not a big issue like that that divides people in the bars and the coffeehouses, that's when public opinion is a little bit more fluid.

LENO: You know, Dan, Michael is the handsomest political historian I've ever seen. Who's his makeup guy? Why does he look better than the three of us?


He looks so handsome compared to...

BESCHLOSS: You have low standards, Leno.

LENO: Look at the three of us. We look pastey and washed out, and he looks like -- he looks like he's Peter Jennings younger brother.


RATHER: Well, I will say this, Jay. There is a reason why he looks better and that -- he pays better. He pays better scale for makeup artists. That's one reason.

LENO: All right. Well, go ahead. I'm sorry to get off the track.

RATHER: No, Dan Rather with Jay Leno and Bill Schneider and Michael Beschloss. We'll be back in just a moment.


LENO: I guess you know we all have a new Miss America. Yes, I don't care either. Yes, basically...


Is it Miss Hawaii? Is that who won?

Miss Hawaii is the new Miss America, and George W. Bush is thrilled. He says it's about time we had a winner from a foreign country. Huh? Yes, good to see that.


Yes, nice to have that happen.


My favorite part of the -- the talent competition. I always enjoy that. And did you see Miss Texas? For her talent she executed a guy.




RATHER: Welcome back. Ever so often on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," Jay does a simplified form of Pictionary that he calls "Jaywalking." With the election being a few weeks away, Larry's producers thought it would be fun to go Jaywalking on the Mall in Washington, D.C.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. Is it Perot?











UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think so. It's David Letterman, yes.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, Christ. Who the heck is that? That's not political. That's ABC News or something like that, isn't it?






He might be our next president.



LENO: Comedy's not easy, is it, Larry?

RATHER: Who the heck is that? Having a little fun with it. Obviously, Jay's producers produced that segment, he was the only one who looked good in the whole thing.

Did you notice that, Bill?

LENO: Yes, yes.

But you know, it's amazing, people don't know. See, I have a theory on this, I have a theory on the way they do the news now, everything goes by so quickly -- we went out on the street one day and we asked people, who is Ken Starr? And the most common answer we got was, he is the Starbucks guy, or he is the guy with the bag of trash, because that's the only shot you would see, every morning coming out to his car with a Starbucks cup, or if it was Monday, he had the bag of trash. And people go, oh, is he the guy with the bag of trash? They didn't know what he did, they knew he just had a bag of trash or a cup of coffee. RATHER: Well, you know, that's funny, and it underscores something you said earlier, it's funny because it's so true, it's so dead on the mark.

Let me ask Michael, in Washington, Beschloss, who's with us, among our presidents in the past, who had the best sense of humor?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, in recent times, probably John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan to some extent, but you know it's hard to say these days, Dan, because nowadays presidents are surrounded by this big battery of writers. As you know, when Bill Clinton goes to speak to a press dinner in Washington, or the Gridiron dinner, he gets a lot of people in advance to give him jokes.

In Kennedy's case, he had this terrific wit that he used at press conferences. For instance, there was this one moment where he was being asked about the Civil Rights Bill in 1963 that would, of course, have opened public accommodations to everyone of every race, creed, or color, and they said, well, would Mrs. Murphy's boarding house come under this act? And Kennedy's reply was, well, it would depend on whether Mrs. Murphy's boarding house had a substantial impact on interstate commerce, and everyone paused for a moment and then laughed uproariously --pretty risque for 1963.

LENO: But you know, Kennedy did have comedy writers...


LENO: ... because I have met -- I mean, it wasn't like it is now, where it's sort of publicized.

BESCHLOSS: Not so routinized.

LENO: Yes, but he did have quite a few, and I have met some of those guys, so I don't know if it was all necessarily off the top of his head.

RATHER: Well, Jay, if a president of the United States, any president of the United States called you and said, Jay, I've got a dinner coming up, my writers have been pretty stale, would you write something for me -- would you do that?

LENO: Yes, I have done it with three of the last presidents. I've written jokes...

RATHER: Well, tell me about that.

LENO: Well, I've written jokes for Clinton, I've written jokes for Bob Dole, I've written jokes for Hillary, written jokes -- my thing is, look, I have made fun of these guys, you know, say, I can do anything for you, give me a call, and they'll call and say, hey, I have this dinner coming up and -- OK, and I'll, you know -- sometimes they use them, sometimes they don't. But I have done it for almost all the candidates, except for Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader.

RATHER: Now you're revealing a prejudice, are you? What's wrong with Pat Buchanan, you have a problem with him?

LENO: Yes, that one doesn't work for me, and Ralph Nader will go, what's a joke? Now, you could laugh, fall down and injure yourself, couldn't you? All right, thank you, thank you, Ralph. Thank you, Ralph, you are right, you are right.

RATHER: Bill Schneider, let me bring you into this. Considering that any politician now who goes on one of these shows, Jay Leno show, Letterman, you name it, that they are going to be made fun of, why do they do it?


RATHER: Why don't they just say, listen, I'm not going to do that, I want the job, but I don't want it that badly, I'm not going through that?

SCHNEIDER: Ever hear of the phrase, you go hunting where the ducks are? The problem is there are a lot of voters out there who don't watch the "CBS Evening News" -- unfortunate souls that they are -- and they don't want CNN "INSIDE POLITICS," and you've got to get to them. You've got to get to them where they are, and they are watching Jay Leno, and they are watching Oprah, and they are watching Regis, and they are watching these shows and you have to reach those people. Some of them may not be voters, you want to bring them in. Some of them are people who pay no attention to politics, you've got to go hunting where the ducks are.

RATHER: And what about the fact -- go ahead, Jay.

LENO: I was going to say, but it's also ego. I mean, when I would watch "60 Minutes," I'd go, why would a guy who has $10 billion in a Swiss bank and he hasn't been caught yet, talk to you? Why? Because they think they are smart, they think they can beat it, they think they -- oh, I'll have no problem, this will be easy. I mean, it -- I think it's the same logic at work.

BESCHLOSS: There is something else -- could I come in for a second, Dan?

LENO: Sure -- the handsome guy.

RATHER: By all means, Michael.

BESCHLOSS: You know, another thing is that, you know -- thank you, Jay -- there is something that -- he is going to throw me off yet -- you know, in the last 50 years there has been a huge sea change.

You know, when Adlai Stevenson was running, early 1950s, had this great sense of humor, you know, was once -- once said -- was once told by someone, every thinking man will vote for you, and Stevenson said, that's a big problem, I need a majority -- had this wonderful wit and people picked this up and they said, well, you know, he is too jocular, he is too funny to be president, means he's not serious. Now it's exactly the opposite. If you have someone of leaden gravity who doesn't show, or at least simulate a sense of humor, it's a big problem if he runs, and that's another reason why Al Gore and other candidates come to Jay.

RATHER: Good point.

Dan Rather sitting in for Larry King, with Michael Beschloss in Washington, D.C., Bill Schneider, CNN, here with me in New York, and the great Jay Leno in California.

We have a ways to go, hope you're enjoying it. If you are, stay with us. Matter of fact, even if you aren't, stay with us.


LENO: Al Gore is getting awful friendly, isn't he?


LENO: Did you see him with James Taylor? Show him with James Taylor. I think Al Gore -- OK, now watch this, now he looks like, you know, OK. Says hello. Now, Ellen, can we get a little closer, look at this -- come on. I don't know what that was all about.




RATHER: Dan Rather in New York, with Michael Beschloss in Washington, D.C..

Mr. Beschloss is the presidential historian, who is the author of "The American Heritage History of the Presidents." Anything we have touched on tonight you want to know about past presidents, it's in Michael's book.

And Bill Schneider is with me here in New York, Jay Leno is out in Hollywood.

Those pictures bring back some memories of past campaigns, a far cry from this campaign, Bill.

SCHNEIDER: And by the way, we have a little news to report. There is going to be an exhibit opening in Boston University this Saturday, the Muger Memorial Library at Boston University, called "Dan Rather: Reporter of History, Maker of History." How is that for a title? Maker of history. They're going to be showing your photographs, papers, memorabilia from your very long and distinguished career as a reporter and maker of history.

RATHER: Well, reporter I will buy, maker of history, I will not.

Let's get back to the subject at hand.

Thank you for that, and I'm indebted to everybody at Boston University, but also a little embarrassed about it, because I'm not sure that reporters should have that sort of thing, but they had been collecting papers and pictures for a long time.

Michael Beschloss, a recent "New York Times" magazine article by Marshall Sulla (ph) characterized comics as reducing the 2000 race to -- quote -- "the stiff guy versus the dumb guy" -- unquote. Now, unkind perhaps, but apt?

BESCHLOSS: I don't think it is apt. You know, people are not easily fooled, people have been watching these guys on television for at least a year really closely, and if what Jay said on television, and other people say, did not connect, they would not have very much of an audience. And I'd almost flip it, I'd almost say that nowadays it's very important that a president have a connection with the American people that they feel that they like him and understand him so that when he calls on them for sacrifice, they're going to listen.

And Jay, I'm sure he doesn't think of himself this way, but he's part of the vetting process, because if Americans are going to have doubts about someone's character, their personality or the way he can relate to them on television, better to know it now before they make the choice.

LENO: You know, it's interesting you mentioned something and neither of those two candidates really gets you a big audience, because when we've had both candidates on, I think when Letterman and some of the other shows as well, the ratings don't go through the roof as you think they might. I mean...

BESCHLOSS: Is there any other politician who would?

LENO: Hillary got big ratings. Hillary got big ratings for us, got big ratings for Dave. Clinton would get big ratings.

BESCHLOSS: Jesse Ventura?

LENO: Huh.

BESCHLOSS: Jesse Ventura.

LENO: Jesse Ventura. I think what you have now is called the lesser of two weasels, as I call it, you know. You don't have -- when John McCain was running, I would see young people who didn't agree with him, if they read his positions, wouldn't agree with anything on there, but they were fanatical about him because he believed it. He really seemed to believe what he was saying. And I kind of liked that.

I don't have to believe it. I don't have to believe in everything that you're putting out there. But by golly, if you believe it, that's good enough for me.

But unfortunately, those people -- like Nader, like McCain -- these people are out of the race even before it begins. I mean, I saw a lot of these guys, like Bill Bradley, make a run for it, but this thing has been preordained a year and a half ago. And you other candidates go out there and have your fun, but I'm sorry, in the end, we've already made up our mind. And I think that's why you have this great apathy and this is why people laugh at all these jokes.

RATHER: Well, Bill Schneider, nothing to laugh about when it comes to money. One reason what Jay Leno just said is true is it's money. That no Democrat could match Al Gore's war chest, no Republican could match Bush's war chest. True?

SCHNEIDER: Oh, that's true. And the money -- Bush raised a record amount of money in 1999, and that was the money primary. I mean, you've got to raise huge amounts of money. It's no secret that both of these guys have a lot of money to start with and it scared away all the other contenders.

But you know, this tradition that we're talking about, it's not so new, because there used to be political cartoonists. There still are, of course. But you can go way back to the cartoons of King Andrew, making fun of him, Andrew Jackson when he was president, and of course, Boss Tweed was caricatured by Thomas Nast in the New York newspapers. And he used to complain about those damned pictures, and they really brought him down.

That was the way they used to depict politicians in those days. Now you do it on television comedy shows, but it's nothing new.

RATHER: Bill Schneider. Dan Rather sitting in for Larry King. We'll be back in just a moment.


RATHER: Thanks for staying here. Welcome back. We're going to take a call, go to the telephones now, from Virginia Beach, Virginia. You're on.

CALLER: Yes. I wonder if Jay Leno will do some jokes about the news reporters, such as yourself, Dan Rather, and Bill Schneider. I think there's a lot of material there.


RATHER: No doubt.

LENO: Oh, I know when Dan finishes he's going to run home and put a jacket on.


Well, Mike, did you see those pictures of Dan Rather? Who was it Castro, Nixon? Have you never had your picture taken with anybody popular?


RATHER: I had my picture taken...

LENO: I'm surprised I didn't see Stalin, and -- there you are with Ivan the Terrible. It's like -- who has pictures of bad people in their house? Oh, there's me with Stalin and there I am with Castro.


RATHER: Let's go -- we only have a few seconds left here, minute or two maybe.

Michael Beschloss in Washington, in terms of humorous to the past, in the pre-television era, and even going back into the last century, we had Will Rodgers, Mark Twain. Who else comes to mind who could effectively make fun of politicians and give us a laugh at the politicians' expense?

BESCHLOSS: Thomas Nast in the last century. I think Bill was talking about, editorial cartoons. And oftentimes in this century, even before TV, you've had someone who makes a comment that sticks. You know, like Calvin Coolidge, the problem with him was he was weaned on a pickle. He really looked that way. And once that was said, you almost couldn't look at a picture of Calvin Coolidge in the newspaper without thinking of that.

Or Mort Sahl, the 1950s, the joke that was made about Ike, the Eisenhower doll. What does it do? You wind it up and it does nothing for eight years.

We historians now know that Eisenhower did a lot, but at that time, that stuck. That was a lot of the way that people looked at Eisenhower.

SCHNEIDER: And what is the enduring image of Thomas Dewey, the presidential candidate in 19...

RATHER: The man on the wedding cake,

SCHNEIDER: The man on the wedding cake. That became the enduring image, lasts forever.

RATHER: Well, Jay Leno, out of this campaign so far, what do you think will be an enduring image of each of these two candidates.



LENO: An enduring image? I'm not sure. I mean, it depends which Al Gore you're talking about. I don't know. You know, I can't think of any memorable moments at this point. I mean, you know, maybe Bush when he gets that Dan Quayle in the headlight look, that could be memorable, but I can't think of anything.

RATHER: And maybe Al Gore at the end of the convention or at the convention with his wife?

LENO: Well, I think -- is that -- yes, that's pretty memorable. I think the one that will last for the decade is "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." That's -- that's my all-time favorite. That's the good one. RATHER: Jay, you've been an awfully good sport to stick for the hour, We really appreciate it. We'll be watching you later tonight, of course.

LENO: Well, thanks. There'll be a little something extra in your envelope this week as well, Dan.

RATHER: Well, thanks. I could use it.

LENO: I've got Bush on, on the 30th. As long as he didn't see this show.


RATHER: Oh, no. He'll be there. Trust me, that close to election time he'll be there.

LENO: No, he's watching the Cartoon Channel. We're covered.


RATHER: Bill Schneider, always good see you.

SCHNEIDER: Good to see you.

RATHER: And Michael Beschloss in Washington, great admirer of your work.

BESCHLOSS: Thank you.

RATHER: Yes, Jay's on a kick about it. He apparently...

BESCHLOSS: My mother has been doing his writing, obviously.


RATHER: Well, he hadn't said anything about your book, "The American Heritage History of the Presidents." He keeps saying you have a good makeup person. But thanks for being a good sport and being here with us tonight. Thanks to you all for helping me out here sitting in for Larry.

Dan Rather, pinch-hitting for Larry King. Thank you in the audience for bearing with us and being with us. We tried to have a good time. We'll see you along the trail.



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