All right Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up

08 February 2014

Goodnight Jay-The End of a Late Night Era

"I don't like goodbyes.  NBC does...I don't care for them" and with that opening line to his last monologue Jay Leno's final Tonight Show's valentine began.  
In front of an audience of VIPs and dear friends who would serenade him with a "So long, Farewell" Jay Leno said goodbye to what he called "the best job in show business" and did what Jay Leno does better than anyone, he hosted the Tonight Show with wisecracks, grace, and an uncharacteristic emotional goodbye.  Calling himself the "luckiest guy in the world" Jay Leno stepped out of what was the most coveted job any comedian could ever have.  The Tonight Show for many of us will always mean Johnny Carson and there was a great deal of controversy when Jay took over after Johnny, but never from Jay.  He was the focal point of a swarm of show biz nonsense but he always remained centered, gracious, the consummate gentleman,truly a rarity in his business- a class act.

Jay Leno came of comedic age at an extraordinary time for stand up comedy, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeld, Richard Pryor...these were his buddies and stand up comedy defines who he is.  He has been playing the same club every Sunday night since 1978, he had the biggest stage any comedian could have for 22 years but would still do 100 shows a year on the road, honing his craft, trying out bits and staying close to what made him the best in the business.  He was often criticized for not being edgy enough, but Jay Leno knew that at 11:30 every night he was in people's bedrooms making them smile before they went to sleep and he played to everyone.  This was not his first goodbye to the Tonight Show, in 2009 for a bad 7 months NBC put Conan O'Brien there in what was a train wreck for late night TV, and through all that Jay Leno was the calm in the craziness, taking it all as just part of the game...a game that took the working class kid from Andover, MA with learning issues and a love for cars to the highest point in his field-whatever else NBC may have done wrong in the Leno era, and despite all the rivalry with his friend David Letterman, NBC did get the right guy.

 "I don't need to be fired three times..I get the hint. I get the hint"

Jay knows that he is over 60, the world is moving faster than he cares to keep up with and that television, media and the audience has changed and that this may not have been his decision but this time he is OK with it.  The late night audience is fractured with a great deal of competition and what once was a viewership of over 12 million has dropped to five million... but Jay started at number one and leaves at number one.  His was a run that was second only to Johnny's and with a brand like the Tonight Show he has left an historic mark on American comedy.  It is doubtful  that The Tonight Show will ever look or feel the same, Jay was always in the model of the traditions of the Tonight Show and was careful to keep so much of what Johnny Carson built in tact while still making it his own but it could not have been an easy task to step into a legend's shoes but Jay never tried to be anyone other than who he is and that may have been the key to his real success.  Jay Leno is  genuine, and that sparkles through every night.  Jimmy Fallon is a talented guy but this is a different world and it could be that The Tonight Show no matter how cool and hip the host may just be a dinosaur...there are lots of places to go at 11:30 at night--It would be nice to think we could all be in the same place laughing together, goodness knows this country could use a good laugh, but those days are probably gone.

"It's fun to kind of be the old guy and sit back here and see where the next generation takes this great institution.... It really is time to go and hand it off to the next guy. It really is."
 As Jay Leno took his final curtain call as host of The Tonight Show he dropped the wise cracks for a bit, talking about the losses in his life and how the Tonight Show staff became his family, and to reveal a man who gets it and who never tried to be anything other than a guy who likes to make people laugh and that he did every night for 22 years. Jay Leno is a complete and pure comic with a respect for his craft and for those that came before him. As he said goodnight he told his wife Mavis "Honey, I'm coming home."...but there is no doubt that Jay Leno will find himself a spotlight to stand under and keep us laughing for years to come.  Thanks Jay. 
 "Jay, you've made a whole lot of jokes about me over the years, but don't worry, I'm not upset," Obama said, adding that he was making Leno the U.S. ambassador to Antarctica. "Hope you have a warm coat, funnyman." Barack O'bama