Review: Jay Leno at The Kennedy Center

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Iconic television host, celebrated comedian and 2014 Mark Twain recipient Jay Leno returned to the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall Friday night amped to get the trifecta of St. Patrick’s Day, March Madness and the weekend’s start off with non-stop laughs.

Jay Leno. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

Following a spirited 20-minute, three-song set by The Mellow Tones, an eight-member ensemble (Rio Castaneda, Jairus Edwards, Tristan Hines, Briona Jackson, Deijah Knight, Alanna Olatunde, Michael Ventura, and Christylez Bacon) from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Leno briskly sauntered on the stage instantaneously saluted by thunderous applause with many members of the audience on their feet to excitedly greet and welcome him.

Within moments of his presence, nearly every other attendee’s cell phone was up to take a photo of the legendary late night host who has been a fixture on the American comedy scene for the past four decades. In fact, this month and year marks the 40th anniversary of Leno’s first appearance on NBC’s The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson on March 2, 1977.

Keen to cover a comprehensive cross-section of topics, ranging from trends like binge-watching and pharmaceutical commercials (with horrible side effects such as “explosive diarrhea!”) to politics and modern absurdities, Leno impressively detailed a swift succession of jokes and one-liners that was reminiscent of a hyper-extended monologue from his many years on The Tonight Show.

More notably, Leno seemed to garner the most laughs when he quipped about controversial figures such as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Acutely aware of his diversely assorted onlookers, a broad spectrum of intergenerational fans, Leno made a point to mention that he was being even-handed with his renderings, alternating jokes on each political aisle, conscientious not to offend any particular group.

A resplendent raconteur, the most memorable moments of the 90-minute show was when Leno resurrected stories of his Scottish mom (who feared traveling internationally) and Italian dad (who saved every receipt and wasn’t afraid to take back an used toilet seat), sharing personal narratives of his family life, comments on his own aging (“when you work in a young business, you think you’re inspiring, but they’re just laughing at you”) and experience performing on the road for alternative audiences such as the Nobel Prize committee.

Superbly self-deprecating and effortlessly engaging, it is evident that Leno loves to make people laugh and to hone his craft, once again, exhibiting his astute ability to deliver a contemporary comedy concert with flawless timing and pace, composing the most common of subject matters and redirecting the foibles of American culture in a fresh and humorous way.

Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.

Jay Leno performed on March 17, 2017, at 8:00 PM, at The Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets to future events, call the box office at (202) 467-4600 or Toll-Free at (800) 444-1324, or purchase them online.

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