Jay Leno’s Body Language on Oprah Showed Honesty and Humility But His Uneasiness With Hard Hitting Questions and Lack of Vocal Passion Put Viewers Off


Even though Jay Leno went on the Oprah Show to try to set the record straight and reveal that it was not his decision, but rather the network executives decision to give him his old job back, based on Oprah’s post show poll  results, viewers people still weren’t convinced.  According to her poll, they still  appeared to  view Jay as the bad guy who took away Conan’s show. In fact an overwhelming 94 percent felt he should have walked away as Conan did.

I believe that a lot of the public’s perception had a great deal to do with what was and what was NOT revealed through Jay’s body language.

Body language wise, the good news is that Jay appeared to be  honest,  genuine, and showed humility  in his responses .

But the bad news is that his lack of verbal and vocal passion about what took place, his lack of eye contact, his looking away and not looking on Oprah’s direction when he was asked hard hitting questions,  his facial expression, tone of voice  alienated the audience  Most of all,  his lack of tone and emotion in answering  pertinent questions  spoke volumes.


Perhaps the most damaging aspect of his television presentation was Jay’s lack of displaying of genuine heartfelt emotion. Oftentimes he tried to disguise and filter his true emotions through humor.  Even when he talks about how executives came into his dressing room in 2004  to tell him that they were going to replace him with Conan, he chuckles as he tells Oprah it was “pretty shocking”. His chuckle dilutes the impact of this “pretty shocking” event so the viewer doesn’t feel the full impact he is trying to relay.

There was only one millisecond when Jay showed genuine heartfelt emotion during the interview. It was when he responds to Oprah’s query as to how he felt after he was told this by executives. He said “ It broke my heart. It was only then that  we her the crack of Jay’s voice reflecting his  sadness and emotion. But that was the end of showing any kind of emotion. After that glimpse of real emotion, all we heard for the rest of the interview was a detached monotone.


Unfortunately, I don’t think that the interview Jay did  endeared him to viewers. In fact, it  may have even hurt him in the long run. When Jay said during the interview, “I’m not a person who carries my emotions on my sleeve “he was not kidding.

That statement said it all! He certainly did not wear any of his emotion on his sleeve during the interview- something he should have definitely done for Oprah viewers.

That would have made people relate to him much more. Instead, his detached monotone which was in stark contrast to the animated tone we are used to seeing when Jay does his monologue or interviews with guests . His detachment and lack of emotion, especially during crucial topics like whether he reached out to Conan was off-putting to many.

Had he sounded more emotional, more inflected and less distant, perhaps he could have persuaded more of those viewers who were on Team Conan and received a more positive reaction.


Jay’s interview with Oprah was perhaps the most difficult  thing he ever had to do in his entire career  and it clearly showed.

Having the tables turned where he was in the hot seat was clearly uncomfortable for him.  You could see it throughout  the interview. Unlike his interviews with his own guests,  which are peppered with humor and lightheartedness, the tone of this serious  interview was the complete opposite.

There was no pussyfooting around as Oprah got right to the  guts of the matter. She  went straight for the jugular with her hard hitting blunt questioning.  Jay was clearly uncomfortable. His body language confirmed it.


The lengthy pause time that he used to think up an answer, his lack of eye contact with Oprah, his looking down, raised eyebrows, shoulder shrugs, hand on chin, hand over mouth often saying “you know” as a signal for Oprah’s approval, eye squints, nose wrinkling, and use of analogy to deflect the true heart felt emotion of what happened, were all signals that Jay was out of his element and comfort  zone.

His constant looking away and looking down often reflected his embarrassment and discomfort.

The main tells of Jays hand over his mouth or on his chin indicated that he was holding back and didn’t want to be there or talk about what had happened. Jay also held on to his legs throughout the interview which indicated that he was bracing himself for the upcoming difficult questioning that laid ahead of him.


Oprah asked Jay, “Were you and Conan friends?” Jay replied “Yes,”  “We talked many times” after those transition talks in 2004.

Oprah also asked Jay if he reached out to Conan.

Jay was clearly taken aback by this question as  you see him squint his eyes and crinkle of up nose, indicating he knows he probably should have reached out right away, but was embarrassed by having to admit that he  did not do it.

There is an uncomfortable pause by Jay  and when Oprah in a surprised tone asks “why?  He is clearly not prepared to answer “why” he didn’t reach out. That is why you see his  face  squint and his eyes close, indicating that he really didn’t want to answer that question.  He goes ahead and answers the question in fragmented sentences which further  indicates that he was unprepared with his answer.

Subsequently, Jay  answered  that he wanted to “ let things cool down.” He puts his hand out as he says this, which is a distancing gesture.  His shoulder shrug also shows that he is uncomfortable with what he said as he immediately adds “ maybe we’ll talk.”

This was NOT the right answer to endear him to viewers. As savvy as Jay is,  he clearly knew it was not the right thing to say.  But he was being honest about his not wanting to directly confront  a heated, emotional,  and difficult  situation and no doubt have his emissaries handle it on his behalf.

He then looked sheepish with his raised eyebrows and the lowered volume of his now meeker sounding voice  as he continued to speak.  His interjection of the phrase “you know” said twice  (once at the end with head nod) indicated he wanted Oprah’s approval as he speaks . Usually when people say “ you know” they want your approval that you are with them in knowing and identifying with  what they are saying.

Oprah was clearly not giving Jay any signals of approval. Instead, her questions indicated that she was probing deeper and deeper.  Viewers were definitely  not approving  of the fact that Jay did not personally reach out to his “friend” as he did in 2004.

It was disturbing to viewers  that Jay reached out when he was on the losing end of the equation back in 2004, but no longer saw the need to reach out when he was no on the winning end of the equation in 2010.


Oprah asked Jay” Was anything Conan said about you hurtful?”  He paused and looked away, trying to come up with the right answer for the audience. But his body language betrays him.

The fact that he paused for so long, indicated that of course it hurt him in terms of what Conan said about him. That pause time indicates that he is trying to come up with an answer. Then he looks up  and with a flat affect tries to  minimize  the hurt that it obviously caused him.

He didn’t say “yes it hurt” or “no it didn’t hurt.” Instead, in a monotone expression says” they were jokes.“

Oprah, being the expert interviewer that she is probed even deeper by asking” So the jokes don’t hurt you?”

He looked up  to show his clear discomfort with the probe. As he answers Oprah his eyes are closed at times and  he looks away as a means of distancing himself .  Instead of admitting that the jokes do indeed hurt,  he depersonalizes  it by taking in the third person by saying “That’s what we do.”

He then uses  the analogy of being a fighter, not look in Oprah’s direction as he speaks. He said “You get punched in the head. Did it hurt? Yeah, it hurt but you’re a fighter.”

So in a roundabout way, Jay admitted that Conan’s jokes did hurt like a punch hurts a fighter. Another comedian’s verbal punches can hurt just as badly as fists.

Perhaps it was Jay’s attempt to seem like he was in control and not let anyone see his vulnerability. But showing his vulnerability would have made him sound a lot less defensive  and more endearing.


When Oprah said America has taken sides “And a lot of people are not on your side. And they’re not on your side because they think that you have been selfish in this. Do you see in any way how you’ve been selfish? They think that you took the job away from Conan.”

Instead of Jay saying in a very animated  and passionate vocal tone NO I AM NOT SELFISH.  It was not my call. It was the network’s call and their decision to do what they did and I am just an employee, so to call me selfish and blaming Conan losing has job because of me is unfair! Just like the network did with me years ago, they did the same with Conan.! So it wasn’t me who is responsible for Conan not having a show not ME ! “ Jay was too low key and matter of fact in his delivery.

Jay also talked way too much and became way too defensive. He replied, “”It all comes down to numbers in show business. This is almost the perfect storm of bad things happening. You have two hit shows — ‘Tonight Show’ No. 1 and Conan No. 1. You move them both to another situation. And what are the odds that both would do extremely poorly? If Conan’s numbers had been a little bit higher, it wouldn’t even be an issue. But in show business, there’s always somebody waiting in the wings. Being me.”

“I never expected this to happen. People think you’re behind the scenes, pulling strings. “”There’s no strings to pull. I have a show that’s been canceled. So why would I have any power to go, ‘Oh, I want that.'”


Perhaps Oprah’s polls would have then yielded a different result if Jay:

  1. Had displayed more verbal and vocal passion.
  2. Had more direct eye contact with Oprah throughout the interview
  3. Was not afraid to shed a tear or a vocal crack as he did for a millisecond at the beginning of the interview
  4. Had called Conan  or  even said he had a call into Conan
  5. Had he shown more facial emotion to express how sad he was for Conan’s situation
  6. Had he spoken directly to the audience and explained how badly he felt about this whole ordeal
  7. Had he taken the audiences point of view and stated how he could understand how they might feel the way they do about him.
  8. Had he not sounded so defensive and victim-like at times during the interview.
  9. Had he promised that he would do his best when his new show debuts and with confidence assured  people  that they would have a new experience to look forward to
  10. Had he made the offer to have Conan on his new show and not have Oprah ask the question.

The bottom line is as Jay said at the end of the interview, he is only a highly paid employee and not an owner. Therefore, unlike Oprah who is an owner of a show, Jay had no say in the decision. He was simply offered his old job back and he took it. As an employee he knows that if his ratings fail, he is out the door. Unfortunately this message did not get a across to those who took Oprah’s post show poll because of Jay’s  facial language, body language, and lack of vocal passion and animation.



7 thoughts on “Jay Leno’s Body Language on Oprah Showed Honesty and Humility But His Uneasiness With Hard Hitting Questions and Lack of Vocal Passion Put Viewers Off

  1. He’s a man and, even though he talks for living and entertains people with wit, he has trouble expressing his own emotions. I think most men think anger is the only emotion that they are allowed to express openly.


  2. I too wanted more emotion from Jay………..but I sob at the drop of the hat. That’s me. It’s not fair to judge him or expect of him what would gratify me. He’s just not an emotional guy. He has a big heart, but he just showed it in more subtle ways. He was never going to break out in sobs and scream “I love you Conan! I’m sorry!” He did what he felt was right. When he said he wanted to “let things cool” it was out of respect. He didn’t want to take back his old job, which was already taken away from Conan and then call him and rub it in.
    His discomfort speaks volumes but not just against him. This was a hard thing for him to do. He’s not used to this. How could anyone expect him to show a lot of emotion? It’s just not reasonable. He avoided inflection because the only inflection he’s used to is comic. He was trying to be calm and show that he was taking the interview seriously.
    Refusing to admit how much the jokes hurt him was just another way of being respectful to Conan and his colleagues. He’s empathizing. He’s not just avoiding saying “That hurt” he’s avoiding saying “You’re a jerk.” because that’s not how he feels.
    The pauses and “you know” further indicate his sensitivity. He’s out of his element and reaching for some way to get comfortable because he really wants to be open. You can’t just ask a man who’s built a career being lighthearted to come out in the open and bear his soul. It’s just not fair.


  3. Dr. Lillian-
    Thank-you again for your wisdom and clarity in deciphering the whole picture here. Oprah was at her finest. I think Jay Leno will not have the same high ratings that he had before his move to 10PM. NBC really did a “great” job here as I think they have now provided Letterman with the opportunity to be #1 in the time slot and they can’t stand Letterman! Pretty funny!


  4. Jay could have walked away but he kept saying that he was still under contract. The truth is he DIDN’T WANT TO walk away. Jay acted as if he didn’t have any options. He has earned millions from his showbiz career – trust me he has options and he could have walked away.

    I thought it was interesting that he said something to the effect that if the ratings weren’t good you are out of there. well, that same rule should apply to him too, but Jay chose to use it only in Conan’s situation.

    I wonder if Jay feels a tiny bit of satisfaction because NBC gave him back the tonight show. Considering that he was asked to retire to make room for Conan back in 2004 and then seeing Conan’s attempt at the tonight show flop. I wonder if Jay feels like this is his sweet revenge.

    What I find interesting is that NBC should be answering these questions – Not Jay or Conan. I feel like NBC is the puppet master orchestrating this drama and Jay and Conan are the puppets.

    Jay still comes off selfish – he should have just walked away.
    This is a PR victory for Conan.
    NBC comes off looking like the evil puppet master.

    My question is: Who will take over the Tonight Show when Leno goes?


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