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Late Night Returns: Jay Leno

By admin Published: January 2, 2008

My plan is to get through a couple of the late shows -- I'm DVR'ing everything -- tonight and the rest tomorrow. It's late, you know. Will be filing as I watch. So, the local news just ended with an anchor's promise that even though Leno doesn't have writers, he's funny on his own. ...

And then, of course, we go into commercials.

Standard opening, Jay working the crowd. "Folks, let's get right to it. A Jew, a Christian and a Muslim walk into a bar ..." then doesn't finish the joke because there's a writers strike. More people, he says, are picketing NBC than watching NBC. Mocking footage supposed to be the strike negotiations.

Jay notes he was on the picket line two months. Says the strike was putting most of the people on the show out of work. Joking looks at the staff whose jobs have been saved. Feels pretty much like a regular Leno monologue -- and he's on tricky turf, since as a guild member he is not supposed to be writing jokes for his performance. But he says he's doing what he has always done -- and that it's OK to write jokes for himself. (The guild rules indicate otherwise.) Says "it's fun" to write his own jokes. Notes Letterman is back with writers. "I don't blame him ... but we have to go against the CBS machine."

Starts poking at NBC boss Jeff Zucker's supposed mansion vs. shanty "Writertown." And on we go, into more jokes...

JibJab year in review cartoon. Oh, a "We Didn't Start the Fire" parody. Gee, right from the charts -- in 1989. ...

Back from a commercial. Jay takes questions from the audience. First question: Would he ever do his show from Branson? "There's no chance in hell," he says. Chatter veers into Jay's reminiscing about the late Dan Fogelberg and his Christmas song. It's not completely boring but on any other night I would have changed the channel by now. And I like Jay.
During a later question it sounds as if someone is saying "bite me" off camera.

Another break, then Jay at the desk. First guest: Mike Huckabee. Is it just me or does he look like Kevin Spacey from some angles? Fans in the crowd. (One woman during the Q&A has said she's voting for Huckabee.) As is usually the case, Leno throws softballs -- did Huckabee know Bill Clinton, how long was Huckabee a minister ... but brings up the seeming contradiction between his church work and being in a rock band. Hey, Jay should meet my pastor. Huckabee seems very polished, which doesn't make this much fun. Gets into Huckabee once living in a trailer; Jay thanks him for providing so much monologue material. Jay shows a clip of him talking with a much, much heavier Huckabee seven years ago. (After all the talk about trailers, Leno now refers to Huckabee's old look in a "triple wide jacket.")

More commercials. Since I'm double-recording, I can't change channels, but I have a Scorecast presentation of the Fiesta Bowl on my computer screen. West Virginia wins, 48-28. My in-laws will be pleased.

We're back. Huckabee is playing with the "Tonight Show" band. Jay calls it "nice stuff." Then into the weight loss. 110 pounds, Huckabee says. "The legislature kept eating my lunch every day." Then a serious discussion of his diet change. Jay brings up "fisticuffs" with Mitt Romney. Huckabee says "it's politics." Then the attack-ad issue. Huckabee complains about Romney, praises McCain, but says the ad didn't feel right. And Jay moves in, asking why Huckabee showed the ad to the press -- Huckabee not very convincingly says the press would claim there wasn't an ad if he hadn't shown it. Jay moves on to Huckabee's tax plan.

Feels like a verrrrrry long segment. Jay brings up the Democrats. Huckabee refers to his great respect for anyone running for president. Didn't hear a lot of respect when he was griping about Romney. Huckabee out, more commercials.

Jay with Emeril Lagasse, with a cooking set. Jay asks him about being grand marshal of the Rose Parade. Chatter. Then teaching Jay how to make a pepper steak meal. Good idea for a segment, since they're just doing stuff and Jay can play off Emeril without it being a formal sketch. Or, it would be a good idea if it was interesting. Do we really need to hear again how Emeril started saying "bam"? And Jay notes that the meat instructions sound porn-ish long after some people in the audience will have realize the same thing.
Steak looks good, though. And Jay does timidity well when he gets to a burning pan.

Another break, then musical guest Chingy with Amarie. I like the back-and-forth between their vocals. Not sure I'd spend the 99 cents on iTunes. We'll see if they're still in my head tomorrow. Jay thanks them, and then we're done. And there was nothing really remarkable. A smoothly mechanical "Tonight Show," the only obvious indication of the strike coming from strike jokes at the beginning.

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