This Sunday at 7 pm/ET, NBC toasts comedian Bob Hope's 100th birthday with a two-hour special, 100 Years of Hope and Humor. As we close in on the funnyman's centennial, Tonight Show host Jay Leno takes a moment to reflect on the legacy of Hope — and why we're unlikely to see another performer quite like him.
TV Guide Online: When did you first meet Bob Hope?
Oh, I can remember the first time I ever saw him, actually. I was a kid, and he used to do the monologues. This is before Johnny Carson and Steve Allen. I probably wasn't much more than five or six, but I liked Bob Hope, 'cause he would come out and wasn't a "clowny" type comedian. Bob Hope was a wise guy. But he was a wise guy that even my mom liked. Which I think differentiated him from a lot of the other wise guys that were out there. "He's a wise guy, but, oh, I guess he's okay."
TVGO: And how does he differ from the comics today?
When you talk to young comedians now, they always talk about the audience they've excluded, "Well, I don't play for those kind of people. I don't play those kind of gigs." Whereas Bob Hope was really America's comedian. He really worked hard at making everybody laugh. He knew his audience. He always went into a town with jokes about a local scandal, or if it was hicksville, he'd have a couple of jokes about that. He tried to connect with every single person in the audience. Which is something you don't really see anymore.
TVGO: He seems to have been an influence on you in that way.
He was an inspiration for me in that way when I took over the Tonight Show, because you had to play to the whole country. You couldn't just do very well with one specific demographic group. That's the real trick, I think, to being popular — Bob could play any crowd. I thought he got kind of a bad rap back in the '60s, and when I was in college, because he liked being an American and he supported the troops. Bob Hope just wanted to entertain people, and entertain the troops. And I don't really think he was a political guy. (Laughs) I'm sure he was probably Republican in retrospect, but I think his aim was generally to entertain. I never asked him this, but always wanted to... Was he hurt by a lot of that went on back then?
TVGO: So did you watch his specials as a kid?
I used to love Bob Hope's opening monologue. I mean, I wasn't a big one for his dancing with Brooke Shields or (doing his Hope impression) "Hey, let's take a look at the all-American football team — C'mon out here, fellas!" But to me, the opening monologue... I mean, I'm a joke guy. Give me the jokes.
TVGO: You got to have him as a guest a few times...
I had him on when I was guest hosting [for Carson]. I had him on when I had the show. He is one of those stars that really impresses your family. I have an older family. I have uncles 90 and 80. You say you got Brad Pitt. They go, "Who? Who the... What the hell is a Brad Pitt?" They don't know. But, boy, "Jay's talking to Bob Hope! Oh my god! Jay's got Bob Hope on the program!" It was something to impress your neighbors and your friends.
TVGO: Think you'll be doing this at 100?
That'd be fine with me. It's great fun to do. You know, stand-up's like golf. If you're reasonably proficient at it, you can keep doing it for a long time and stay competitive. As long as you have the material — and Bob Hope always had the material.