Until a few days ago, that is. That’s when Leno and O’Brien’s unprecedented attacks on the honesty and integrity of their bosses made stand-up comedy relevant again. They got to the heart of the matter. They said publicly what every one of us, at some point in our jobs, has wanted to say to those butt-kissing mediocrities who, through some freakish wrinkle in human history, we have to answer to at work. So what if these guys have so much money that both of them together could single-handedly rebuild Haiti? You don’t refuse to vote for politicians who represent your values because they’re rich, do you? Public spectacle expresses symbolic truth, or not, and the stand-ups’ insolence is refreshing and replenishing, and carries the sting of everyday truth.
NBC, quipped Leno, stands for “never believe your contract.” Yes, indeed, that goes for all those promise-breaking hustlers who stumbled and bumbled upward above our pay grade and who hold our fate in their hands. NBC, he went on, “only cancels you when you’re in first place.” Of course—achieve a little distinction on the job and some moronic supervisor, threatened by real talent, is going to shoot you down. We’ve been “fired again,” Leno said wryly. “Even when they fire people, it’s a rerun.” After sickness and death, losing your job is probably life’s worst trauma, but it’s a universal experience that happens again and again, and the idiots who do the firing don’t even realize that they are trapped in a cliché.