Waking up this morning was rough – because I had to stay up to watch Jay Leno’s last Tonight Show. Over the past months, I’ve seen Ellen DeGeneres, Matthew McConaughey, and many other guest stars thank Jay for his generosity, kindness, and support in their careers. Last night Billy Crystal talked about how Jay’s tiny Boston apartment used to be like a shelter for comedians on the road. The night before Sandra Bullock thanked him for always being supportive ‘no matter what her life choices’ (Jesse James, perhaps?) – as if she sees him as a father figure after all these years. With so many people who love him, it’s hard to blame him for not being on Team Coco.
I personally feel very defensive of Jay, maybe it’s because I hate to see an older yet still at the top of his game talent forced out. I’m a fan of Jimmy Fallon, whose likability stems from his adorable awkwardness and his seemingly endless knowledge of pop culture. But it’s not going to be the same. Jay’s monologue was always a great recap of the day, and usually pretty fair-handed politically. And since the announcement of his departure, I’d say the monologue has become even sharper and funnier. He obviously has a great team behind him, and some of the man-on-the-street bits they’ve come up with are classic, like the guy testing out fake new products on customers.
Jimmy Fallon’s humor is usually more ‘long form,’ and sometimes wears on you a little before they are done. (The ‘Slow Jams News’ for example.) Of course he can always pull the ‘surprise guest star Justin Timberlake’ card out of his pocket which will instantly send everyone under 55 swooning. I’m sure Jimmy will be given plenty of time to succeed, but now Dave is the old guy and the two Jimmys will be in competition for the millennials. (I think I have detected Kimmel moving a little more toward the middle to prepare for this new landscape.)
Back in the 90’s I was living in Burbank and not really a fan of Jay. I was a cool hip Letterman lover. One day at the gym I was on the treadmill reading ‘The Late Shift’ when the woman next to me asked me whom I preferred ‘Leno or Letterman?’ I told her I was more of a Dave fan, and when I asked her if she’d read the book, she responded tersely, ‘I lived it.’ Based on her reputation, I’m lucky Helen Kushnick didn’t knock me off of my treadmill. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1141861/bio#mini_bio
It was that November when my parents visited me in California that I became a Jay convert. My radio connections afforded me great access to VIP treatment at Universal Studios, the House of Blues and of course tickets to sit in the studio audience at The Tonight Show. I didn’t have any special ‘backstage’ access, but when Jay came out to say hello before the taping and take a few questions, I felt a sudden burst of bravery. I shot up out of my seat and said ‘Jay – my parents are here all the way from Texas and it’s their anniversary today!’ Leno said, ‘Really? Well come down here, I think we’ve got something for your parents.’ By the time we had made our way to the stage, a frantic-looking Jay came running out from backstage carrying a paper plate full of cookies he had swiped from the green room. He presented them to me saying, ‘Here ya go, we got these for your folks since the only thing you got them was free tickets to the Tonight Show!’ The crowd laughed, I think I remember Jay asking my father how many bathrooms were in his house but it was all a blur after that. All I knew was that Jay had made that anniversary one of the most memorable ones ever.
I sat in the audience several times after that, to fawn over guest stars or treat my out-of-town visitors. Jay Leno consistently came across as spontaneous, funny and friendly. I thought that if more people could see THIS part, they would like him so much more. Compare that to the icy aloofness of Letterman’s pre-show, and Jay wins every time.
After having seen him in person, and watching his final farewell last night, I am still impressed with the genuineness of Jay. I don’t care if that makes me less cool, or old and out of touch with the millennials. He deserves a break, to tinker with his cars and take long trips with his wife Mavis. I hope he can be happy in his post-Tonight Show world.