By Brian Lynch
Jay Leno capped off a 22-year stint as the anchor of the “The Tonight Show” with a farewell episode on Feb. 6th. The episode succeeded in keeping the mood light while looking back at the last two decades of the show’s history.
Leno kicked off the night with one of his trademark monologues. Sadly, a “trademark Jay Leno monologue” has lately come to be defined as litany of middling jokes delivered by a tired, outdated funnyman.
This one was no different. Leno slipped in a hackneyed reference to “the good old days” before Justin Beiber was born and a curious quip about the spread of marijuana and the decline of cigarettes. The only thing to signal the viewers to laugh was the clichéd ba-dum-dum-ting coming from the band section.
Fortunately, not all of the show was as facepalm-worthy as the opener. One segment included famous people giving Leno humorous advice on how to spend his newfound free time. Barack Obama, jaded by the myriad of jokes that the long-jawed comic has made about him over the years, offered to make him the ambassador to Antarctica.
Bob Kostas chugged Jack Daniels while commiserating about being replaced by a younger, trendier personality.
Additionally, the show came fittingly full circle when Billy Crystal, Leno’s longtime friend and greatest proponent, came on as his final guest. Crystal had been the first guest of the show after Leno took over for the incomparable Johnny Carson in 1992. Crystal’s personality greatly outshined Leno’s. He burst onto the stage with a crew of movers, and directed them how they might take the stage apart after the final credits ran. Later, he and Leno reminisced about their early days together on the comedy scene forty years ago. Oddly, it was Crystal’s memories, not Leno’s, that were most entertaining.
The most memorable segment of the night had to be the national television debut of the “Shut Your von Trapp Family Singers.” Crystal introduced this traditionally clad troupe of balladeers, who teamed up with a laundry list of celebrities, each as marginally relevant to the show as the last, to perform a goofy knockoff of “So Long, Farewell. “
Crystal kicked it off by singing, “There’s a sad sort of clanging from the clock in the wall, and the bells in the steeple too. The executives that run NBC are popping in to say you’re through.” Jack Black came on stage, and followed with “So long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen my dear, if Fallon tanks, you’ll be back here next year.” Kim Kardashian, Chris Paul, Cheryl Crowe, Jim Parsons, Carol Burnett and Oprah Winfrey followed, while the Trapps crooned in the background.
Of course, the show would not have been complete without a sad ending, and on that account, Leno delivered in touching fashion. A good cry was had by all when he spoke about losing his mother and father within two years of the start of his tenure.
“I was pretty much out of family,” he explained, but his staff pulled together to become his new family. Gracefully, he gave his successor Jimmy Fallon his blessing, and admitted, “It really is time to go.”
Leno may not have been at the height of his comedic genius during his farewell show, but there is no denying his legacy. Even towards the end, his ratings were still strong.
The finale was the show’s fourth most watched episode since the show aired for the first time in 1954.
Chris Paul was correct when he sung that Leno “won the late night race,” for “The Tonight Show” has been consistently drubbing Conan O’Brien on TBS and David Letterman on CBS in the ratings department. Leno’s career as a comic is far from over.
He reportedly has more than 100 club dates booked as of now, a fitting retirement for the most hardworking and happiest comedians in the business.