M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Friday, April 04, 2003  


I heard a radio commercial today that briefly caught my interest. It seems Jay Leno is going to be doing a live standup show here in Minnesota.

Let me just say right now that I’m not a fan of the Tonight Show host. On the other hand, I do have dim memories of a very funny young comedian from the eighties named Jay Leno. Maybe that’s the guy who will be playing the main room at the casino. That guy might actually be worth seeing. And let’s face it, when is any of us ever going to get a chance to see that guy again? The guy who hasn’t had every edge sanded off by network executives and focus groups and censors and joke writers who weren’t funny enough to get gigs on Just Shoot Me? Maybe Jay was inspired by Jerry Seinfeld in Comedian to go out and tour the country and actually take risks. Of course, Comedian showed Jerry bombing at one gig. Even getting to see Jerry Seinfeld bomb live and in person must be a rare and magical experience. But for sheer, once-in-this-century bizarritude, it wouldn’t come close to seeing Jay Leno kill in person.

All this went through my head as the announcer opened the pitch. Then it fled the second the commercial got to the first audio clip of Jay himself.

“Saw that joke coming,” Jay “quipped.” End of Jay clip.

Those four words were enough to remind me of every Leno monologue I’ve ever seen him do since 1992. Not that there’s been a lot of those. I got so tired of listening to myself think “saw that joke coming” that I considered deafening myself. I did get a few breaks though. Sometimes I would think, “I would have seen that coming, but I thought it was too lame to actually come. And yet come it did.” Who thought to splice that phrase—that one, Leno-damning phrase—so early into the spot? Someone who secretly wants people to stay home? A competing casino? David Letterman?

The announcer went on to say that Jay was returning to standup, where he got his start. Thanks, I knew that already. That cued another Jay audio clip:

“This fixation on me has gotta stop!” Surge of raucous laughter, led by Kevin Eubanks.

Way ahead of you there, Jay.

The announcer went on, then yielded the floor to another Jay clip:

“Here’s something.”

And the announcer blathered something about Jay’s observational humor blah blah blah. Okay, I’m all for observational humor, as should be thunderingly apparent by now, but our example of Jay’s special brand is “Here’s something”? No follow-up, just weak, blunt segue? Did that become his catchphrase when I wasn’t looking? And if it did, do you think he’s happy about it?

The final Jay clip was one I couldn’t fully decipher, highlighting the fact that he’s funniest when you can’t hear what he’s saying. But I’m pretty sure it was some self-deprecating comment about his monologue not being funny, which is exactly the kind of thing you want to include in a commercial designed to get people to come out and laugh at a monologue. I’m thinking the commercial’s producers just taped one episode of The Tonight Show at random and pasted in the least enticing snippets of Leno-ese they could find. Or maybe NBC wouldn’t give them permission to use any actual jokes from the show. Or maybe they just figured that if they found one funny thing Jay had said, they’d just have to find four more, and they’d like to sell some tickets in advance. In any case, the spot was alarmingly effective; it completely talked me out of doing something I might have otherwise done.

The more I think about it, the more I think that Jay wanted to do what Jerry had done, but in Jay’s own way. That is to say, wrong. Jerry played actual comedy clubs instead of huge Native American casinos, and I don’t think he took out radio ads for his shows, and he came up with his own material and polished it on the road just like real working comedians do. In Jay’s case, he’s done the opposite—except possibly for that last part. And I say “possibly” in the sense that his studio audience might “possibly” laugh if there weren’t a neon sign and an army of grips signaling them to do it.

I remember an episode of The Tonight Show from years ago when Jerry Seinfeld was a guest. He was telling Jay about his new summer replacement series, The Seinfeld Chronicles. “It’s my own show,” Jerry told Jay, pointedly referring to Jay’s guest host status at the time (I said it was years ago). Jay laughed good-naturedly, then asked a few questions until Jerry was forced to admit that his show hadn’t actually been picked up for the regular season. “Ah, a bird in hand,” Jay said triumphantly. That was the last time I saw Jay get the upper hand on Jerry, although obviously things worked out pretty well for both of them in the long run. Now it seems like Jay’s trying to catch up with Jerry, but it’s Jerry who’s going to have the last laugh.

Argh, I can’t believe I just said that. That’s something Jay Leno would say.

posted by M. Giant 3:22 PM 0 comments


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