(Recasts with Leno comments throughout)
LOS ANGELES, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Former NBC late night host Jay Leno voiced his support on Wednesday for the women who have come forward claiming they were sexually assaulted by comedian Bill Cosby.
Leno, who stepped down as host of “The Tonight Show” last year, was asked at a National Association of Television Program Executives conference what he thought of the allegations against Cosby.
“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,” he replied.
Over the last three months, more than a dozen women have come forward alleging that Cosby had sexually abused them. Many of those allegations are decades old and fall outside the statute of limitations for criminal or civil cases.
Cosby’s attorney Marty Singer has dismissed the allegations as “discredited” and “defamatory.”
At Wednesday’s conference, Leno added that he supported the way the allegations against Cosby were brought into the spotlight, after standup comedian Hannibal Buress called Cosby a rapist during a performance last October.
“He made a flat-out statement that reverberated around the world. If that was on TV, it would have been edited. If it were on any other medium, it would have been edited,” Leno said.
“But because somebody just filmed it and put it out there, you’re getting your news raw and unfiltered, which I think is fantastic.”
Leno’s comments come after actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner, who played Cosby’s son on television, told music trade magazine Billboard that he found it painful to hear the claims that the comedian sexually abused more than a dozen women.
Warner, who played Theo Huxtable on “The Cosby Show” in the 1980s and 1990s, said the allegations do not match Cosby’s reputation.
“The Bill Cosby I know has been great to me and great for a lot of people,” Warner was quoted as saying.
“Just as it’s painful to hear any woman talk about sexual assault, whether true or not, it’s just as painful to watch my friend and mentor go through this.”
The 44-year-old Warner joined “Cosby Show” actors Phylicia Rashad and Keshia Knight Pulliam in defending the 77-year-old comedian.
“He’s been very influential and played a big role in my life as a friend and mentor,” Warner said. (Reporting by Eric Kelsey and Phil Furey for Reuters TV, Writing by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Patricia Reaney and Ken Wills)