Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Working Till You Drop

'I'm Scottish--we die in the mines. Hey, I like to work.'
--Jay Leno, explaining to NBC's Brian Williams why he wanted to continue his show, albeit at an earlier hour and under a different name.


At 12:38 AM, Blogger TJ Sullivan said...

I watched that interview too and ... I like Jay, but ... I have to say he looked like he'd been up all night working in a mine ... with that bad bed-head hair and so much eyeliner he seemed on the verge of going goth.

At 6:49 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Yes, what was up with the hair? Was he trying to make a statement or something, or didn't he happen to have a comb or brush handy? He also had a funnier line than anything you'd usually find on his evening monologue. Williams asked about reports that he was unhappy with the network dumping him after his contract was up, and he said, "oh, that was just some disgruntled employee talking--me." I also found it interesting how he obliquely made reference to arch-rival Letterman by saying that he, Leno, isn't a guy who likes to get lawyers involved or own a piece of the show, that he instead just likes to write and tell jokes and get paid. I couldn't decide if it was meant as a salute to Letterman or a veiled criticism. Anyway, I'm on record as liking Letterman waaaay more than Leno, but I did love the Scottish miner line.

At 10:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Me too. I generally like Letterman better, but you can't say Leno isn't a hard worker.

I think he said something like "Write joke. Tell joke. Take check."

At 10:25 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I think you're right, Miles. Seems a lot of us were watching the Today show early that morning.

At 11:07 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Interesting. I find Letterman's self-aware smirk to be far more annoying. I find Leno to be a lot more "what you see is what you get." Maybe that's the difference between New York City smugness and West Coast la-la-land honest eccentricity.

I like Leno. I like Leno best when he his talking about his cars, and his passion for cars. He's done appearances on Discovery Channel, on their car shows, on American Choppers, and so forth. He also writes a column for a prominent monthly car magazine. That's Leno at his best: showing his enthusiasm for what he enjoys in life. That's also him at his funniest.

Personally, I don't find any of these late-night talk shows very funny. (Possibly excepting Conan O'Brien.) They're all too self-aware. They're all too much mavens of the general Celebrity Culture—so much so that even when they get thoughtful and well-rounded guests on their shows, they still try to stay shallow and go for laughs rather than actually talk about anything important. One very much misses The Dick Cavett Show—just as one misses Tom Snyder's various incarnations.

At 11:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just hope Leno doesn't get too much competition from the other comedians (*) in that time slot.

(*) cable pundits, politicians, local news anchors, etc.

At 11:26 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Ah, this is a rich vein to mine, Art. We share a warm spot for old Tom Snyder, the late-late-night king of the 70s. I remember watching him the night the power went out in NY ('77 or '78) and the screen went dark (or maybe it didn't--I can't completely recall)But I'm just a tad too young to have ever really been able to appreciate Cavett during his prime. I have, however, come to really get a kick out of his incredibly interesting blog on the NYTimes website, which I've linked to before.

I too like Conan. He's blended his intellectual roots in the Harvard Crimson and Saturday Night Live (where he was a writer for many years) with a bunch of other odd things, and the resulting stew is usually interesting & spicy. He laughs more at himself than others, certainly more than Letterman, who does indeed take the irony up too high a notch sometime.

Having said that, I do love Letterman for his fearlessness in taking on his own network, for handing Bill O'Reilly's ass to him whenever he comes on (you get the feeling he can't veto that guest, but then takes it out on the ignoramus all the more). Unlike Leno, he also tends to have on serious authors and other anti-idiot-culture types just often enough (not as much as Jon Stewart, of course, but way more than Leno) to leave me impressed. His ongoing Great Moments In Presidential Speeches feature roasts George Bush more effectively than I think anything else I can think of.

And finally, I'll NEVER forget the way he skillfully and seriously interviewed Army Private Jessica Lynch, the wounded Iraq war vet who the Pentagon tried to turn into a cartoon hero of battlefield heroism in some of the crudest propaganda efforts of the early war. He quieted the live audience, signaled there would be no jokes, and went about letting her tell the real story of what happened to her. It was a great (and alas, too rare) moment in network journalism, I thought. He has a serious side that's I think even deeper than Jon Stewart's.

At 11:33 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Mike, I think that time slot will work great for him. This clearly a baby boomer demographic trend play. The bulk of that huge group is now getting up to an age where few stay up anymore till 11:35 (when Leno now begins), much less till half past midnight, when it ends. This is like a Seinfeld episode, full of jokes about Jerry's visits to his parents' condo community in Florida, where everyone has dinner at 4 p.m. and is ready for bed by 9 or 10 p.m.

Okay, Mike, how about you guys? What time do you and your lovely wife typically turn in on weeknights, if I can be so bold as to ask?

At 1:06 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Normally I turn in when I run out of steam, which these days is between midnight and 1am most nights; sometimes as late as 2am. I'll say up front thought that TV is not on the agenda at night, as most of what's on is brain-sucking crap, not excluding most late night talk shows.

I remember fondly Jon Stewart's own talk show, prior to The Daily Show. He was the heir apparent to Snyder, and filled in for him, too. I like Stewart partly because he's the closest we have anymore to what Snyder did.

I also recall fondly Ron Reagan's briefly-aired late night talk show. It was often brilliant, and had a high level of discourse, close to Cavett;s. That it didn't succeed says more about our times than it does about the show.

Don't get me wrong, I don't disagree with the good things you point out that Letterman has done. But those are brief moments mixed in with generally too much irony and smugness, and the mix is toxic, for me, even when there are great individual moments. Not something I can watch very often.

I freely admit that some of the problem I have with Letterman is that I have become a lot less tolerant of general New York City smugness; I'll say bluntly how toxic that can be in the literary world in general, and poetry in particular. So, when I encounter that smugness in the pop media, too, it turns me off. I'm probably going to piss someone off for saying so. But the truth is, there are positive aspects to that Midwestern centeredness and modesty that both coasts could learn from.

At 1:50 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Art, I can't say that I ever saw Jon S. before the Daily Show. But I do fondly recall Ron Reagan's smart talk, which was wonderful and all too brief. I find it interessting that Charlie Rose hasn't yet come up in this conversation. It's about the only thing still on TV that can even pretend to a Cavett-level discourse. But I believe I'm on the record as saying that while he does have great guests often enough, I find the guy himself appalling on several levels: a suck-up and so insecure about his own intellectual credentials that he asks endless questions that are more statements, and then as the guests begin to answer, he'll cut them off with yet more data points, which are intended to show how smart and well-prepared he is. It's sad and pathetic more often than not.

Finally, as for Letterman, interesting that you point to the Midwest as a better place for grounding in comedy and those kinds of shows. It's often been observed that Carson, the king, was so well in tune with middle America because he came from Nebraska. But Letterman, who idolized Carson, also happens to be from the midwest (Indianapolis), and while he now lives in Connecticut, I sense way more Indiana in him today than east coast sophisticate. It's often the root of his disdain for the show biz culture, which of course isn't always so obvious as it once was when he was on later in the evening and a younger guy. But the combination of turning 60, becoming a father and surviving a massive heart attack and open heart surgery has played a huge role in softening him a good bit, as it would just about anyone.

At 4:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Couldn't resist sending you this . . .

Jay Leno went into the audience to find the most embarrassing first date
that a woman ever had. The winner described her worst first date
experience. There was absolutely no question as to why her tale took the

She said it was midwinter...Snowing and quite cold...and the guy had
taken her skiing in the mountains outside Salt Lake City, Utah.

It was a day trip (no overnight). They were strangers, after all, and
had never met before. The outing was fun but relatively uneventful until
they were headed home late that afternoon.

They were driving back down the mountain, when she gradually began to
realize that she should not have had that extra latte. They were about
an hour away from anywhere with a rest room and in the middle of
nowhere! Her companion suggested she try to hold it, which she did for a

Unfortunately, because of the heavy snow and slow going, there came a
point where she told him that he had better stop and let her go beside
the road, or it would be the front seat of his car

They stopped and she quickly crawled out beside the car, yanked her
pants down and started. In the deep snow she didn't have good footing,
so she let her butt rest against the rear fender to steady herself. Her
companion stood on the side of the car watching for traffic and indeed
was a real gentleman and refrained from peeking. All she could think
about was the relief she felt despite the rather embarrassing nature of
the situation.

Upon finishing however, she soon became aware of another sensation. As
she bent to pull up her pants, the young lady discovered her buttocks
were firmly glued against the car's fender. Thoughts of tongues frozen
to poles immediately came to mind as she attempted to disengage her
flesh from the icy metal. It was quickly apparent that she had a brand
new problem, due to the extreme cold.

Horrified by her plight and yet aware of the humor of the moment, she
answered her date's concerns about' what is taking so long' with a reply
that indeed, she was 'freezing her butt off' and in need of some

He came around the car as she tried to cover herself with her sweater
and then, as she looked imploringly into his eyes, he burst out
laughing. She too, got the giggles and when they finally managed to
compose themselves, they assessed her dilemma. Obviously, as hysterical
as the situation was, they also were faced with a real problem.

Both agreed it would take something hot to free her chilly cheeks from
the grip of the icy metal! Thinking about what had gotten her into the
predicament in the first place, both quickly realized that there was
only one way to get her free. So, as she looked the other way, her first
time date proceeded to unzip his pants and pee her butt off the fender.

As the audience screamed in laughter, she took the Tonight Show prize
hands down. Or perhaps that should be 'pants down. 'And you thought your
first date was embarrassing.

Jay Leno's comment...'This gives a whole new meaning to being pissed

Oh and how did the first date turn out? He became her husband and was
sitting next to her on the Leno show.

At 4:30 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Good lord! What can you add to that? Wonderful story. Thanks for adding it.

Now that you mention it, I've warmed to Leno a good bit in recent years because of the wonderful way he goes outside and interviews people (I think the segments are called Jay Walks, or something like that). What I especially like is when he quizzes people on current events, and points out how little most people know about the most basic civics. That seems to be his one small but important blow against the idiot culture, and he should be saluted for it.

At 10:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I started to answer your question, John, but after that Tonight Show audience story, I can't remember what it was.

At 7:23 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

That one did kind of suck all the oxygen out of the room, didn't it? Truly a unique addition to the conversational thread.

At 1:30 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

By the way, here's the link again to the Dick Cavett blog. Note the staggering number of comments he gets, more than 800 on his latest entry:

At 11:54 PM, Blogger TJ Sullivan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 9:47 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Interesting. Turns out that the Cavett show ran on PBS all the way until 1982, so I erred in saying that I was too young to have been aware of it at the time. I was already just out of college by the time it went off the air. Just missed it. But you've given me a good idea, to check them out on DVD, so thanks. How about Charlie Rose, TJ? Are you a fan of his show?

At 10:17 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Big fan of Charlie Rose. I used to watch him every night. Unfortunately, my local PBS affiliate doesn't carry him, which sucks.

The Cavett DVDs are very god, BTW. The release I've seen are sorted topically rather than chronologically; i.e. music, politics, art, etc.

At 12:11 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

That's surprising, Art. I assumed every PBS affiliate carried his show. In my market, one of our two PBS affiliates runs the Tavis Smiley show (which is also generally very good) in Rose's former time slot of 11:30, which pushes Rose back a bit. And I do still watch it when I get the chance, always hoping he's learned to shut up a little and listen to the guests' answers.


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