A magnificent stage usually filled with a full orchestra and a hundred-person chorus might feel empty with just a stool, a microphone, and a lone person, but not when Jay Leno is in control.
With the magnificent Rubenstein Organ as the backdrop of Jay Leno’s one-night-only performance at the Concert Hall of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Leno gave an intimate performance that left audiences clutching their sides in laughter on Wednesday night—but not so hard that they couldn’t give him his well-deserved standing ovation. Leno’s inspired jokes brought audiences to their feet and illustrated how he earned his place in the public consciousness as one of the great men of comedy.
Leno—who holds a place in the Television Hall of Fame—hardly needs an introduction. With greying hair and his iconic chin, Leno is a time-tested, bonafide comedic superstar. As host of NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno from 1992 to 2009, Leno has been in the business for many decades; yet, with his quick wit and jokes that poke fun at the current day, you could hardly believe that he was 64—although his age is admittedly often the butt of his jokes.
Nothing was off the table for Leno in his hour-long sketch as he tackled issues ranging from gay marriage to the 2016 Presidential Elections to the wildest infomercials on television—always finding a way to poke fun at the insanity of the present. Although Leno certainly had a repertoire of great jokes and prepared stories that he shared throughout the evening, he never failed to tie his jokes back to recent events—jesting at the Hilary Clinton email scandal and even the power outage in Washington, DC, yesterday. His material is fresh and authentic. It is that sense of living in the present moment—reading the audience and responding accordingly—that makes each performance feel unique and adds to the fun of live comedy that Leno does so well.
Leno shines when he talks about his infomercials and about his family, turning the seemingly mundane into the extraordinary. For instance, he shared a short monologue about Thanksgiving Day at his house, where, as a boy, he accidentally bought sanitary napkins for his mother instead of table napkins—then proceeded to distribute them at the table to all of his relatives. Without giving too much away, he also shared a great short story about his first time at a comedy show, and how that experience probably scarred his demure mother for life.
A highlight of the evening was when Leno went truly off-the-cuff in a little improvised back-and-forth session with the audience. Going around the first few rows and asking people what their occupation was, Leno poked fun at everyone from students to retired professors to architects as he jeered lightheartedly at the absurdity of their jobs.
It’s no wonder that Leno received The Kennedy Center’s 2014 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. While his days on The Tonight Show may be over, Leno’s comedic career continues to live on with each audience he is able to dazzle and please.
Running Time: Approximately 75 minutes, with no intermission.