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In some ways, it's kind of amazing how much the late night talk show world has changed since Jay Leno made his permanent exit from The Tonight Show back in February of 2014. The comedian himself recently spoke about the tonal shifts and why he wouldn't want to return to that. However, that didn't stop Leno from literally returning for a surprise (to viewers) visit to Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show. Watch out now, too, because this guy is ANGRY! (Not really.)
Under the guise of being an angry stranger that Jimmy Fallon ran into on the street – which would an interesting failed experiment if attempted as a realistic talk show bit – Jay Leno returned to the Tonight Show stage to say a few things about the state of America.
Not about politics or anything like that. But about how big cell phones are nowadays! And hemorrhoid cream testimonial websites! And cashiers who ask dumb questions! And Sears!
In true hokey Tonight Show fashion, Jay Leno presented himself as the grumpy old man waxing on about everyday gripes that one might hear people complaining about while on the phone in a waiting room. (And what is up with all these people talking on their phones in waiting rooms?!?) It seemed inevitable that he would eventually get to a point where he talked about credit card machines, but his rant kinda outdated the "insert chip vs. scan card" stand-up comedy bits.
But then maybe the outdatedness was part of the bit itself, adding to its potential genius. I maybe can't quite tell where the joke begins and ends here.
In one light, it's clearly Jay Leno presenting a self-aware parody of more rage-minded comics whose acts are grounded entirely on long-form grousing, such as Bill Burr or George Carlin. Only, because it's Leno, the quibbles are with the lowest-hanging fruit of life's grievances.
Yet, Jay Leno is known for being a hammy comedian, with or without Kevin Eubanks or Jimmy Fallon egging him on in the background, and The Tonight Show is the most genial and populist of all the late-night talk show options. So in another light, this looks very much like a genuine and legitimate performance that never finds its edge and fails to recognize the stereotypes being heaped upon themselves.
It was indeed amusing to see Jay Leno turn up on The Tonight Show in the same week where he appeared on Today and talked about why he wouldn't want to get back into hosting on late night.
No, it’s different. I don’t miss it. You know, everything now [is political.] Everyone has to know your politics. I kind of used Johnny [Carson]’s model. People couldn’t figure out, well,[which side I was on]. ‘You and your republican friends. Oh, Mr. Leno, you and your democrat buddies.’ And I would get hate mail from both sides equally and go, ‘Well, that’s fabulous. That is exactly what I want.’ But when people see that you are one-sided, it just makes it tough.
To be fair, there are presumably no bipartisan views when it comes to not wanting to look at other people's hemorrhoids online.
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon airs every weeknight on NBC at 11:35 p.m. ET.