"It's different," Leno told PEOPLE of today's landscape. "You live in the time you live in and for my time, it was great."
Though the faces have changed, Leno said at NBC/Universal's TCA Party in Beverly Hills on Wednesday that the good will is the same. Contrary to popular belief, Leno said the comedy scene isn't "some horrible, cutthroat business," he said. "The idea that there's all this stabbing in the back, I mean, it's really not."
In that spirit, Leno shared his candid – and generally affectionate – opinions on some of his most direct peers, including his Tonight Show successor, Jimmy Fallon, his former time slot competitor David Letterman and the ascendant Stephen Colbert.
Jimmy FallonSince departing from the scene, Leno acknowledges that the late-night landscape has changed, particularly at his old stomping grounds.
"I think Jimmy's doing a great job," said Leno, 65. "He's brought the demo down, but it's music parodies. ... I mean, I can't do that. It's stuff that we didn't do."
But according to Leno, Fallon's Internet-ready karaoke battles and dart-throwing competitions are "just a different way."
"Rocky Marciano never fought Muhammad Ali, and you can't pretend that they did," he said. "Who would win?"
David Letterman"I thought we both should have gone out about the same time," Leno said of his former sparring partner, who retired in May. But, he added, "I was glad I that I got out when I did."
Despite their shared time slot, Leno immediately pointed out that he and his former late-night competitor "couldn't be more different" and, as such, "We learned stuff from each other."
"When I first saw Dave, he was awkward on stage, but a brilliant wordsmith," Leno recalled. "He could put words together in a very clever way … and when [Letterman] saw me, I think he liked my ability to be reactive and loud."
Added Leno, "We sort of knew how to make each other laugh. ... Letterman and I liked to laugh on the way to the joke."
But just because the two enjoyed exchanging a chuckle doesn't mean they'll be reminiscing about the good old days anytime soon.
"Dave doesn't really do that," Leno shared. "He's really funny, but Dave's kind of an odd duck – he's not that kind of guy."
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Stephen ColbertThough the the forthcoming Late Show host – who takes over for Letterman on Sept. 8 – shot to fame by playing a character on The Colbert Report, Leno was quick to point out the real-life attributes and roots that ground Colbert and separate his from his past persona: "He's smart. And he teaches Sunday school. He comes from a family of 14."
For those reasons (and surely many more): "I think he'll be terrific," Leno said. "I think he's really good."
Reporting by SCOTT HUVER