Leno insults Lindsey Vonn, bores audience in tone-deaf return
In his first show as the recrowned host of NBC’s “Tonight Show,” Jay Leno offered a master class in all that’s wrong with his safe, bland take on comedy and just why the younger, Internet-savvy audiences NBC so desperately wants to retain view him as an over-the-hill comedian who just won’t let go.
And, at least for this first night back, the reconstituted “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” was a stunning display of tone deafness that ranged from bland to weird to uncomfortable and offensive.
Let’s start with the latter: In an interview with skier and Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn, Leno noted that her picture on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Olympic preview issue last month had raised eyebrows; would SI have asked a male athlete to pose in such a sexualized position, the charges went from the chattering classes. Vonn said she didn’t understand the complaints (“That’s how I ski”) and Leno mocked the controversy by showing a doctored version of the image with himself in Vonn’s place.
And yet only moments prior to that, Leno noted that Vonn’s husband is also her skiing coach and trainer and a guiding force behind her success. “Does that work in all aspects… in the bedroom, everywhere?” Leno asked with a smile. To her credit, Vonn nervously laughed it off and moved on — though what she should have done was punch him in the mouth. Would Leno have asked that of a male athlete? Tone-deaf…
The weird moments came from the evening’s first guest, Jamie Foxx, who tried to fire up the crowd by leading them in chants of Jay Leno’s name and spraying the crowd with a bottle of victory champagne, as if he was helping to laud the return of a conquering hero.
Leno, for his part, simply sat back looking bemused, seemingly happy to once again be in the position of having someone else kiss his ass and doing little to stop it. And yet, the whole display bore little connection to the reality of the situation. The audience in the studio might have been amused (or might not have been), but Foxx’s hip hop-pep squad routine belied the notion that Leno’s re-ascension was the cause of much teeth gnashing among millioins of TV fans and also that Leno’s only back at 11:30 p.m. because his 10 p.m. show was such a colossal failure that it threatened to destroy the entire NBC network. Some hero. Tone-deaf…
As for the actual comedy, it can be summed up in one moment: during his monologue, Leno introduced a new bit called “How Boring Is Alan Greenspan?” and then showed a clip of the former Federal Reserve chairman from “Meet the Press.” Get the joke? The 84-year-old Greenspan, who retired from the Fed and has been out of the news for four years, is old and boring. Ha. Ha?
As the prime time “The Jay Leno Show” show was imploding in January and the Internet commentariet were pillorying him for his agreement to first subvert, and then replace, Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno always displayed a kind of beffudlement over how he came to be seen as the villain in the whole melodrama.
Monday night’s show is exhibit A in why so many — myself included — shuddered at the thought of his return to “Tonight.” He’s the comedian who seems to exist in different, tone-deaf — and unfunny — parallel universe that’s about five years behind everyone else. And this is who NBC is banking on?