Kanye West adds drama to Leno debut

Maureen Ryan
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

The most compelling moment of the debut of "The Jay Leno Show" (10 p.m. EDT Monday-Friday, NBC) would be several seconds of silence, during which you could have heard a pin drop in Leno's NBC studio.

It came after Leno gently asked Kanye West if his mother would have been disappointed in West's behavior toward Taylor Swift at Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards. After a long pause, a clearly regretful West answered that he'd have to take some time off and ponder how best to live a better life.

Will the Leno show continue to have this kind of pop-culture relevance? Doubtful. Expect lots of folksy humor and middlebrow jokes from the entertainment industry's most mainstream guy. As he proved on Monday, Leno is not the funniest comic host, but he is one of the hardest-working men in show business.

Some other highs and lows:

The good

"It was rude, period," West noted during his apology to Taylor Swift. Well said, sir. West, Rihanna and Jay-Z on the debut episode? Not a bad collection of musical guests.

Jerry Seinfeld as the first sit-down guest (who wasn't on a couch — he and Leno sat next to each other in armchairs). A practiced talk-show entertainer, he got things off to a smoothly amusing start. Leno and Seinfeld are such pros that they didn't really need Oprah Winfrey to stop by (via video monitor), but who can say no to Oprah?

Leno greeting the audience, part of which was standing and clustered around the edge of the stage. Leno is nothing if not a man of the people, so the populist move made sense.

A re-creation of a segment of the syndicated show "Cheaters" in which bandleader Kevin Eubanks was confronted by the talk-show host and "Cheaters" host Joey Greco about Eubanks' alleged two-timing with a Leno lookalike. The bit was so unexpected that it ended up being funny.

The bad

Making a sex joke involving Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Are you trying to age up your already mature demographic, Jay?

The opening monologue was full of the sort of middle-of-the-road softballs that Leno specialized in during his "Tonight Show" run. I'm sure a lot of people missed that. Then there are those of us who didn't.

The set didn't look all that different from the "Tonight Show" set, but the various design elements didn't quite jell together.

Two jokes about erectile dysfunction drugs, really? Including during a not-very-funny fake interview of President Barack Obama? Aim high, Jay. Aim high.





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