Television

So How Was Jay Leno's First Show?

Kanye West and Jay Leno talk on the first night of Leno's new show.

Jay Leno got very lucky having an interview with controversy-attracting Kanye West, because otherwise, the opener of his new show was extremely slow. NBC hide caption

itoggle caption NBC

As you've been hearing for months, Jay Leno has a new show, and last night, it finally showed up. So how was the debut of The Jay Leno Show?

It was about like his years on The Tonight Show, only much more unevenly paced, because they've changed the proportions and don't have the flow right yet, and he brought on guests who didn't have anything to say — with one exception.

The jokes (such as they were), the interviews and the big headliner, after the jump...

The monologue looked exactly like every Leno monologue. If you like Jay Leno jokes, it probably worked for you. A sample? "Fifty percent of women wish their men would take control in bed. The other fifty percent just wish the man would put down the remote control in bed." Yes, that is the joke, complete with the strained connection between "control" and "remote control," despite the fact that no one I know uses the phrase "remote control" anymore. But in any event, that's the joke: Men are distracted and watch television! Ha ha! Also, Blondie really wishes Dagwood would knock it off with the sandwiches.

The monologue was followed by a long (and it felt even longer) comedy segment in which Dan Finnerty, who played the wedding singer at the end of The Hangover, sang and danced for a woman who was getting her car washed. As he pressed ahead with oh-so-daring "hose"/"suck" jokes while gesturing at her with various elements of the car-wash machinery, she didn't even laugh; she just smiled politely.

It was a particularly inauspicious start for the feature Leno has probably hyped the most: performances from young comedy performers. If this is the best thing they had in the can after a summer to prepare, that's a little concerning.

The supposedly "lead" interview with Jerry Seinfeld turned into an interview with Jerry Seinfeld and (via video) Oprah Winfrey, and neither of them were particularly funny or had much to say.

The real lead interview, and the headline-maker, was Leno's talk with Kanye West, who wouldn't have been an especially interesting subject 48 hours ago, but since his antics at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday night, he's at the top of everyone's list of quotables, however briefly.

West expressed — again — how bad he felt about leaping on stage, as if he hadn't known in advance that Swift wouldn't welcome someone interrupting her speech to say she didn't deserve to win. Then Leno hit him with an actual interesting question, if only for the intense cringe factor.

He asked what West's mother, who died in late 2007, would have thought of his behavior.

West paused, sat, and considered. The silence got very long, and then it seemed like West teared up. Ultimately, he told Leno that he's been working constantly and needs to take time off to think, because he was sad that his "hurt" caused "hurt" to someone else. He appeared, though it wasn't entirely clear, to be saying that his unresolved feelings about his mother's death are responsible for his behavior at the VMAs.

It's an interesting theory, because it might be true, or it might be the tackiest attempt to escape responsibility for your behavior in celebrity history. Obviously, it's not something Jay Leno is going to challenge (and he didn't), so West had very little to lose.

West went on to perform with Rihanna and Jay-Z, seeming pretty much like himself. The performance was energetic, at least. But the fusty comedy, of course, returned with the show-closing "Headlines" segment. Always an uneven bit, it ended this time with two Chinese restaurant bits that amounted to little more than assertions that words in foreign languages sound hilarious.

It seemed like an awfully dull debut for something so widely anticipated. It will get huge ratings, given the weak competition and massive publicity campaign, as well as the gift of Kanye West. Will the numbers hold up over time? It's finally almost time to find out.

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