|Leno’s all-star exit (l-r): Cheryl Crow, Carol Burnett, Oprah Winfrey, Jay,
Kim Kardashian, Jack Black, Chris Paul, Billy Crystal, Jim Parsons
There was a comedian a few years ago who did a bit where he would offer anyone in the crowd ten thousand bucks if they caught Jay Leno in a genuine moment.
Well, buddy would have had to pay millions Thursday night as Leno made an emotional Tonight Show farewell.
The 63-year-old talk show host choked back tears at his desk as he made his final remarks to the audience.
“This has been the greatest 22 years of my life,” he said, mentioning he had shared his stage with presidents, astronauts and movie stars. “I am the luckiest guy in the world.”
He said he had lost his mother in his first season and his dad in his second. His brother also passed away. “After that, this was pretty much my family,” he said, gesturing to his co-workers on Tonight.
People asked why he didn’t go to Fox or ABC after the way NBC bungled the earlier Tonight Show hand-off. “I didn’t know anybody over there,” said Leno.
He added he was proud to work on a union show. Leno always associated himself with the working man. He hustled every inch of his success, tirelessly working the affiliates in the early years.
Then he said perhaps the most important thing to NBC–“it really is time to hand it off to the next guy.” Leno will not be in the wings for Jimmy Fallon the way he seemed to haunt Conan O’Brien. This is it.
He tried to quote Carson’s end note that it was time to “bid you all a heartfelt farewell,” but the words barely came out.
Seeing Leno get emotional was powerful stuff, especially because he kept his emotions in check for so long. He should have cried a long time ago.
Asking Billy Crystal to work his farewell show was also a good move. Crystal brought his old fashioned showbiz swagger to the hour. He killed his entrance, bringing two moving guys out with him to put tags on everything (including Leno’s bandleader, Rickey Minor). He killed at his own monologue, deftly showcasing why Leno was the late night ratings leader by repeating some of the Tonight Show host’s top jokes.
“When Lorena Bobbit cut off her husband’s willie,” he said, “who described her as single and him as unattached? You did.”
He killed at the desk, where the jokes continued. “Let me get this straight…you’re moving to 9 o’clock?”
|Leno admires Crystal’s jokes, hairpiece|
There was plenty of genuine warmth. The two comedians talked about their 40 year friendship, especially the old club days. Comics have their own code, and these two stand by it. “Promise made, promise kept,” said Crystal, proud to be Leno’s first and last Tonight Show guest.
Crystal made the point that Leno basically did “twelve minutes of new jokes every night.” Leno acknowledged later he had plenty of help with writers who made him look “smarter than he is,” but, still, that is the comedy equivalent of winning gold medals at five or six consecutive Olympic Games.
Crystal the comedian could only tip his hat to Jay. “You work so hard because you love this job.”
The two talked about their first television appearances. Leno’s story had him being cut off by the announcement that Richard Nixon was resigning, “making me the last guy screwed by Nixon.”
Who cares if the story is exactly true or not. Let Leno have this last laugh.
Crystal then went to his big farewell bit. This is where booking this guy is smart. Nobody can do Hollywood salutes like Crystal, except maybe Martin Short. The “Shut Yer Van Trapp Singers” were brought out and various celebrities performed Crystal’s version of “So Long, Farewell” from The Sound of Music. Jack Black (dressed for rehearsal), Kim Kardashian, Chris Paul, Cheryl Crow, Jim Parsons, Carol Burnett, (doing the Tarzan yell) and Oprah Winfrey all got in on the act, with Crystal concluding with, “…into the sunset now we’ll see Jay walking.”
It was corny, and showbiz stupid, and exactly right. Thursday night was a historic night for Boomers: the night the keys to The Tonight Show were surrendered to the next generation. Leno and Crystal were just the guys to do it.
If you’re looking for more genuine Jay, check out the recent episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee posted at Crackle.com. Leno and Seinfeld share a similar comedy club history as Leno and Crystal. There are plenty of stories shared between Jerry and Jay, who are also both big car enthusiasts.
Both Crystal and Seinfeld see Leno as the comic’s comic, and that’s as good an endorsement as you can get.