His first post-“Tonight Show” Atlanta performance is Wednesday at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre as a benefit for ArtsBridge, the center’s foundation that focuses on arts education.
We talked to him by phone Monday from his home in Los Angeles:
Q: You used to do the Punchline back in the 1980s. What’s your memories of the club?
A: I remember playing there once and was so flattered when (former Atlanta Mayor) Andrew Young came in and wanted to do some stand-up. I was so honored to have him there, such a distinguished guy. I was stunned when he started doing jokes he probably told his friends in junior high. It really made me laugh because he was just not a comedian but a civil rights legend doing goofball jokes.
Q: Do you do a lot of current events jokes on the road?
A: It's tricky. Most people, especially during the summer, don't follow current events and don't know what's going on. Consequently, I try not to be too current. Folks who go to clubs, chances are they didn't watch the news. Plus, a news joke that was funny Monday may not be so funny by Thursday. People move on. Facts change.
Q: Your contract is technically up with NBC next month, but they had Jimmy Fallon start early. How do you feel he’s doing?
A: I'm really proud of Jimmy. He's doing a terrific show. People try to create these feuds but we really are good friends. And you got to know when to step down. When you're 35, 40 years old talking to a 22-year-old supermodel, that's cool. When you're 64, you're that creepy old guy, thank you. You have to know when to go. I'm glad we kept the show No. 1. I have to admit I miss my friends, but I'm really enjoying myself. I have no regrets. I'm very happy the way things turned out.
Q: You worked with Fallon on a “House of Cards” parody where you push him in front of a train to take back “The Tonight Show.” Does it bug you that you have that reputation? (He lost “The Tonight Show” in 2009 to Conan O’Brien but got the hosting job back less than a year later.)
A: It's so stupid. I'm just amazed. People really have no idea. On the one hand, you're like this jerk. On the other hand, you're some sort of evil genius who demanded that NBC give the show back to you. That's not how it works. These are all business decisions based on ratings and whatever. That's show business.
Q: I’m sure you’ve been asked this a lot already, but what’s your take on Robin Williams (who passed away two weeks ago)?
A: When (Jerry) Seinfeld and I hang out, we talk about the early days at the clubs and the people we worked with and the terrible gigs. The sad part is I won't be able to grow old and do that with Robin. What I liked about Robin is as big a star as he was, he never badmouthed people. He always respected the people who helped him along the way. He would always help out young comedians or a homeless guy. He was genuinely a kind, decent person who always kept it at a higher level.