Sunday, February 9, 2014
GOODBYE JAY LENO, AGAIN! SOME FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE END OF A LATE-NIGHT ERA: (PART 2)
I've been trying to garner up the emotional impact of Jay Leno's final episode of "The Tonight Show" and to reflect on the landmark nature of the event, but, honestly, I'm just not sure I have it in me anymore. Admittedly, I might've had it the first time around, and in some ways, it's hard to even watch Jay after thinking about the incidents that, have become such inevitable public knowledge. Not necessarily because of his actions, but, I think it's because they're such public knowledge-, I mean, as much as we may be fascinated by the behind-the-scenes of the entertainment industry, at some point, you don't really want to see how the sausage was made and unfortunately that's about as big a part of his legacy as anything else.
When he came in, he had fought his way into and kept the most prolific and high-profile job, in TV history, and now that he's seemingly officially done, we think at least, in terms of "The Tonight Show"; I don't know if "The Tonight Show" is even that relevant anymore. It's not necessarily his fault. It's not like he did the show an injustice, but there was more competition and creativity out there, and while he was almost always number one in the ratings, at least, talk show wise, he never dominated his competition, and frankly, there's a lot of general disdain for him in the industry.
Still, It was sad, watching this last week, and him tear up Thursday Night, on just how much and important it was for him to be doing "The Tonight Show". I think that's the inner objective of him that really must annoy people, and why there's such a groundswell of disrespect for him by certain peoples. You see, you gotta realize this, at the time especially, when you were a stand-up comic in the days before cable and Comedy Central and even before there was this phenomenon of the stand-up documentary and recording of performances, the objective was to go from club-to-club working every day and night and eventually, the objective was to one day, be a guest on Johnny Carson. You see, this is something that always fascinated me and most certainly it did during the more infamous "The Late Shift" incidents, is that, it takes a certain mind to instead, have the goal of trying to take Johnny's spot. That's not disrespectful or anything, many people probably did have that as a dream, but to really, truly, go for that spot, especially at that time, when it really was just Johnny doing that job, the ego and the drive. I mean, look at the shortlist of people who have even come close, Joan Rivers, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, now Jimmy Fallon, strong personalities all of them. Strong work ethics, all of them.
Leno worked harder than anybody it seems, something that's the focus of an intriguing analysis/criticism of him in Matt Wild's AV Club article on why he survived so long. The link to that article is below:
I know the criticisms and the stories, the supposed lack of material or stealing of material, and some of it might be legit, I think a lot of it is parallel thinking, and maybe partially the increase pressure of having to write so many jokes in such a short week. (I mean honestly, it's not like other comics don't talk politics and pop culture, what exactly are you looking for?) I also think he was probably inspired as much if not more inspired by Steve Allen as a Tonight Show host than Carson, which a lot of younger and even a lot of older viewers wouldn't necessarily catch, and I think that is a part of how he was a student of comedy. He does still do a lot of stand-up. I know, he's a regular here in Vegas, performing, I don't know, once every 3 or 4 months somewhere, and his material on stage here is different than the material he does on "Tonight". Most people know that curiously, he's never spent a dime of the money he's earned for doing "The Tonight Show", and actually lives off of his stand-up gigs money; which is really impressive when you consider just how many classic cars he owns.
He's done a lot, I probably watched more of Leno than any of the other talk show hosts since he started hosting regularly, and onstage, doing a monologue, yes, even if they are hackneyed joke, they were usually good hackneyed jokes, and he usually made me laugh, and in fact he almost always did, and I believe above most of all, he truly does love performing stand-up. I don't think he ever forgot that, but he probably just wanted to host more, and I think he certainly hates some of the ways in which this occurred. (Let's not forget his agent at the time orchestrated a lot of things that he wasn't even aware of during the whole kerfuffle that annoyed him; and NBC's multiple strains of incompetence over the decades probably has more to do with everything than Leno's personal actions.) The strange thing though, is that, when we think back on his legacy, there doesn't seem to be much of one. He's not ranked among the best talk show hosts, or even among the best comedians anymore. He was good, solid, talent-wise, you really can't say that his job wasn't earned, nor that he wasn't capable, nor that he wasn't quality every night. He was all those things and more and he kept the fires burning on "The Tonight Show", , but he wasn't special. Carson was special. Jack Paar was special. Letterman is special, Conan, Stewart, Colbert, special. They're in higher regard in the pantheon. Nobody's topping Carson anytime soon, nobody's trying, but there's people on that Dick Cavett, Arsenio, line going on today, some are making their own lines now. At one point, I think Leno could've been special, but I don't know; as funny as he was, it feels strikingly hollow in hindsight, or maybe he just outlasted his welcome.