Jay Leno explains why he stopped making fun of trans people: ‘You’re only as good as your last joke’

Jay Leno holds a microphone in his hand as he wears a black shirt and dark blue suit jacket as he stands on stage

Jay Leno vowed the world would “never hear another transgender joke” from him after witnessing how they “really hurt” a former staff member from The Tonight Show.

Leno, who hosted The Tonight Show for two decades, said the “key to [his] success” was “shutting up and listening” when he thought he wasn’t the “smartest person in the room”.

Speaking on Club Random with Bill Maher, he explained how he’s a “huge believer in low self-esteem” and hired brutally honest staff to keep him humble while hosting The Tonight Show.

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

He said that all staffers, across all levels, were listened to, and singled out an interaction with an employee that convinced him to drop anti-trans jokes from his routine.

Jay Leno smiles at the camera as he wears a white shirt, patterned tie and black suit jacket

Jay Leno says one The Tonight Show employee brought a “screeching halt” to him ever making anti-trans jokes. (Getty/Shannon Finney)

“I remember one time we had a guy in the basement who I didn’t know,” Leno said. “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.”

Jay Leno listened, and apologised after hearing how the jibe negatively affected him. He promised the staffer the world would “never hear another transgender joke” from him going forward.

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

Leno said that his relationship with The Tonight Show staff “worked” to better his comedy, adding: “Here’s the thing, you’re only as good as your last joke.”

Unfortunately, it would not appear that Maher shares Jay Leno’s philosophy.

In 2017, Maher said it was “not unreasonable” that a guest wanted to ban trans women from using female toilets, and described the trans bathroom debate as “weirdos peeing”.

He repeatedly criticised Democrats for expressing their support for trans equality and even said it was “crazy” that 2020 presidential campaign hopeful Elizabeth Warren cared about trans issues.

In May, Maher claimed more LGBTQ+ people are coming out because it is “trendy”, and said that the American population “will all be gay in 2054”.

He also referred to gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth – which researchers have said is ‘life-saving’ medical care – as “literally experimenting on children”.