Tuned In

Robo-James' Time Machine: Leno on Letterman

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It’s just a week and a half until The Jay Leno Show begins airing a thousand hours a week on NBC, so apropos of my supersized Leno story this week, it seems as good a time as any to close out Time Machine Week with a look at Leno doing Late Night with David Letterman in 1983:


* Obvious, but must be said: any time you see the easy rapport Leno and Letterman had on this show, before all the drama over replacing Johnny Carson, it’s just automatically sad.

* I don’t know if Jay’s one-liner about Blue Hawaii–“In the book, it’s different, it’s not a helicopter”–was improvised, as it looks, or prepared. Either way, it’s very funny. And it’s an example of what’s always fascinated me about Leno’s appeal. He’s pegged, fairly accurately, as the populist comic that mainstreet Americans believe to be just like them. And yet the premise of so much of his comedy has been–from his standup then to Jaywalking now–how dumb average Americans and American culture are. (Another regular routine of his on Dave, which you see here, was riffing on the latest issue of TV Guide.)

* Speaking of Elvis, you have to admire Jay’s pompadour in 1983. I believe he was also a member of The Stray Cats at the time.

* Dave: “I don’t need to be out here for this do I?” Jay: “Nah, you don’t need to be out here… I’ve been telling the network that for 18 months!” In the TV business, they call that foreshadowing.

* Another the-more-things-change-the-more-they-stay-the-same: Jay riffs on the recent success of NBC’s V, which ABC is remaking this fall. “If you’re traveling the universe, coming to Earth is like stopping at Stuckey’s.” Again: what’s so bad about Stuckey’s, Mr. Elitist Comedian! Later, of course, “Bob Bookey and his cousin Weenie” (“Apparently you never worked in the South!”) would never miss an episode of Leno’s Tonight Show.

* Riffing on a B-movie about an attack of a 50-foot-tall man, Leno talks about his wife being alarmed by her husband’s sudden increase in size. Yet he does not go there. Which I kind of have to admire.