(THEDAILYBEAST) — “HERE’S A fascinating story,” the longtime host of NBC’s Tonight Show With Jay Leno told his audience last week, mentioning a recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling “that a dentist could legally fire his female assistant because he found her too sexy, too attractive, and a threat to his marriage. She didn’t do anything. She’s just good-looking.” The payoff: “Hey, I’ll bet that’s what happened to me here at NBC!”
It’s the sort of joke that is rapidly becoming a staple of Leno’s monologue. (On Monday’s show, riffing on the royal baby, he confided that he was “a little bummed out, because I was the one who was supposed to deliver the baby announcement this afternoon at the hospital, and they replaced me at the last minute”—as a video clip showed Jimmy Fallon striding past a London bobby.)
The 63-year-old Leno was famously eased out four years ago by the network suits in favor of the younger Conan O’Brien. The switch turned into a legendary debacle that former NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer calls “the dumbest thing in the history of television.” After a messy nine-month interregnum in which Leno was dispatched to 10 p.m. and both his and O’Brien’s ratings tanked, he was restored to his Tonight Show perch amid a firestorm of negative publicity.