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Jay Leno on Leaving "The Tonight Show" and His Future Plans

Jeff Riedel/NBC(LOS ANGELES) -- Jay Leno's farewell media tour is continuing this week with a wide-ranging interview in the new issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

The soon-to-be-former Tonight Show host reiterates to the trade publication what he has said in other recent interviews: he's ready to leave the NBC late-night program after 22 years.

"It's not really sad.  It's been a really good run and you have to be realistic.  I think it's safe to say if NBC didn't have somebody in the bullpen, I might be here a little bit longer and I get that," Leno says.

Leno, 63, compares his current situation to that of his predecessor, Johnny Carson, when Carson said goodbye to The Tonight Show in 1992.

"Johnny was 66 when he left.  This always felt about the right age.  The last time I got canned I said that it didn't really seem natural at 57 to be leaving, but 63, 64 feels about right," he says.

Leno firmly states that he will not return to NBC's late-night lineup if his replacement, Jimmy Fallon, and Fallon's successor on Late Night, Seth Meyers, are not successful in their new roles.  The reason, he says, is that NBC worked with him on the latest Tonight Show transition, unlike last time, when Conan O'Brien took over the program in 2009.

O'Brien's brief and stormy run as Tonight Show host, and Leno's subsequent return, led to some ill-feelings among some of his fellow comics, including ABC rival Jimmy Kimmel, who has openly disparaged Leno on a number of occasions.  When asked by The Hollywood Reporter why he doesn't respond to such criticism, Leno says it wouldn't serve a purpose.

Addressing Kimmel's comments specifically, Leno says, "I pick up The New York Times and it's, 'F*** Jay Leno,' 'F*** Jay Leno.'  And I go, 'OK, based on what?'  But it's fine.  I think he's a funny guy.  I did his show and I didn't have any problem with him."

Leno may think Kimmel is funny, but he didn't necessarily find Kimmel's jabs to be humorous. 

He explains, "Is it a joke?  Is it funny?  You know, [David] Letterman and I have had a fun relationship because when Letterman says something, it's funny.  'F*** Jay?'  Is there anyone that reads that and says, 'Ah! Clever!'"

In regards to his future plans, Leno says he will continue his standup career.  He also has several TV offers on the table, but it sounds as if he's unsure he wants to remain on the small screen.  As he puts it, "I don't know if you can make lightning strike twice."

Leno also discussed what's next for him on Wednesday's episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

"I can go out on a school night, which I've never been able to do.  I've never been out in 22 years on a Wednesday night.  It's like, 'Oh, you're doing something wrong.  You have to go home and write jokes every single night," he joked. 

Leno's last day on The Tonight Show is Feb. 6.  Fallon makes his Tonight Show debut on Feb. 17, while Meyers takes over Late Night the following week.

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