Thank you, Kanye West.
The rap star who endured a day-long public beating after his stage invasion during Taylor Swift’s VMA acceptance speech provided Jay Leno the hour’s only genuine emotion and drama on the entertainer’s first 10 p.m. show on NBC tonight.
Leno effectively lucked out. Kanye was already scheduled to do a song with Rihanna and Jay-Z. And he didn’t back out despite the maelstrom of controversy – much to Leno’s relief, for sure.
When Leno asked Kanye what his late mom would have said to him about what he had one, Kanye sat speechless for several rivetingly uncomfortable seconds. He massaged his forehead and grimaced. The audience was eerily silent. Leno had to grope for something to say.
“Would she be disappointed?” Leno said gently. “Would she give you a lecture?”
West didn’t quite answer that but looked deeply and genuinely chagrined. “Yah. You know obviously. I deal with hurt. And you know – so many celebrities never take time off. I never took time off. Music after music. Tour after tour… I caused someone else’s hurt… I don’t try to justify it cos I was in the wrong. I need to take some time off and analyze about how I’m going to make it through life.”
The rest of the hour wasn’t quite so great.
Though Leno has said he wants the show not to be an imitation of “The Tonight Show,” many elements remain the same. He still shakes hands with the front rows of the crowd at the start of the show. Kevin Eubanks and his band remain. Leno’s monologue and “Headlines” are the same.
What’s different? The theme song has more of a rock tinge. The set is even bigger than the “Tonight Show.”. The number “10″ (as in 10 p.m.?) is a bulls eye on the center of the stage.
Given how long he’s been off, Leno’s monologue was surprisingly flat. Another bit, in which he parodied a “Cheaters” episode and found his musical leader Kevin Eubanks hanging with a lookalike Jay Leno, just died on the vine. His fake interview with Obama was predictable and almost amusing.
Leno has been criticized for not showcasing fresh young comics. So he brought Dan Finnerty in to do a song at a car wash about the car wash experience. It’s really professionally done but also really not that funny.
The first truly great laugh for me, at least, was 25 minutes in when Jerry Seinfeld showed up as the first celebrity guest. “You know in the ’90s when we quit the show,” Jerry said. “we actually left!”
Leno moved “Headlines” to the end of the hour, rather than dumping the musical act there like he did on “The Tonight Show” as people were falling asleep. Good thing about “Headlines”: it always generates a few guaranteed chuckles.
Given how low expectations are for great humor on any Leno-led show, that’s about all you’ll likely get.