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During his 21 (non-consecutive) years as host of The Tonight Show, Jay Leno earned a reputation as a middle-of-the-road comic. While other late-night hosts like Jon Stewart took hard satiric jabs at their targets, Leno always kept the kid gloves on so as not to alienate his broad, populist base.
So it should tell you something when even the former king of late night isn’t afraid to speak out in condemnation of Bill Cosby for the dozens of alleged sexual assaults committed by the former standup comedian over the past four decades.
Leno became the latest figure in the entertainment industry to publicly denounce Cosby while speaking at the National Association of Television Program Executives on Wednesday.
“I don’t know why it’s so hard to believe women. I mean, you go to Saudi Arabia and you need two women to testify against a man; here you need 25,” Leno said, drawing laughter and applause from the audience.”
In recent months more than 30 women have come forward accusing Cosby of sexually assaulting them, many telling similar stories about Cosby drugging them. In fact, one of the accusers claims Cosby actually assaulted her backstage at The Tonight Show in 1971, decades before Leno went on to host the program. According to IMDb, Cosby appeared on Leno’s Tonight Show a total of 18 times.
Leno also praised comedian Hannibal Buress for helping to bring the allegations against Cosby into the public consciousness. Though public allegations were first made against Cosby a decade ago, it wasn’t until last October that they became widely known and talked about, thanks to a bootleg video of one of Buress’s performances where he blatantly called-out Cosby for his hypocrisy.
“[Buress] made a flat-out statement that reverberated around the world,” Leno said. “On any other media that would have been edited. People are getting news unfiltered now.”
Leno is not the only famous name in the comedy world to come out against Cosby. Director and producer Judd Apatow has been consistently speaking out against Cosby on Twitter. During an appearance last week on the podcast WTF with Marc Maron, Apatow said it was important for him to keep speaking out against Cosby.
“The reason to say, ‘Bill Cosby is a terrible man and I believe these women’ is so women aren’t hiding in their homes in shame when people commit violent crimes against them,” Apatow said. “That’s why everybody has to say, ‘I just want to go on record, I believe these women.’ But you’re not seeing important people say that. It is dead silent out there. And I find it very, very troubling.”
But as Cosby continues to tour the U.S. and Canada, glibly dismissing protesters, more and more figures in the comedy community seem willing to call out a man who for decades has been held up as one of the greatest standup comedians of all time.
“We’re talking Cosby! We’ll answer the question ‘Did he do it?’ The answer will be ‘Yes!'” Wilmore said at the top of the show, adding, “There’s no statute of limitations on my opinion, and I’m telling you that motherf****r did it!”
Tim Sampson is a reporter who focused on the technology, business, and politics beats. He's also an established comedy writer, with work on Comedy Central and in The Onion and ClickHole.