July 2, 2003
Over at "Procrastination Nation," there is an interesting entry in response to a story on CNN about about Jay Leno vs. David Letterman. I know this has absolutely nothing to do with sports, but it's interesting and it's my website, so that's what I'm going to talk about. The CNN article talks about how Leno consistently beats Letterman in the ratings.
Here's a little from Robert of Procrastination Nation:
They're different kinds of funny--Jay is set-up/punch-line, Dave is more reactive-subtle. This plays out not just in terms of strengths and weaknesses (e.g., Jay has a better monolog, Dave is funnier in interviews). It comes out in their personalities. Jay "works" every single joke. He's like a joke machine that seldom deviates from the pattern, getting laughs out of the mechanics even when the joke isn't particularly good. He's giving every vocal trick imaginable to squeeze every bit out of each joke.
The irony is that, I suspect, Dave's appeal is to more intellectual folks, while Jay's is more blue collar. Jay will forever be the comic at the strip club desperate to do everything to bring your focus on his joke instead of the naked broad hovering over you, even when there's no naked broad above you. Importantly, the style difference for Jay helps him keep people from switching channels: whether it's big bare breasts or 187 other channels, the task is the same, and Jay approaches it that way.
Dave, on the other hand, relies on the audience paying attention the way a theatre crowd would. He assumes you're there to see him and that you'll pay attention. His casualness and the repetitiveness of the show from night to night allow the viewer to switch channels or even to stay away, especially with a lame guest (e.g., when Jack Hannah headlines a Monday night). Dave's confident you'll come back, but if you switch away, while he may beat himself up over it, Dave's not going to change anything about the type of material to keep you.
So, the upshot is: Dave can't beat Jay because Dave's style permits you to "cheat" while Jay's doesn't; and, Dave's comedy, even when it's juvenile, appeals to a smarter/hipper audience than Jay's and that's an inherently smaller crowd.
There are very few things I have ever read that I agree with more than the above paragraphs.
I find Jay Leno to be completely unwatchable. The man has absolutely no personality. He is like a robot that is programmed to do a TV show and, because of that, every interview sounds like it was scripted ahead of time (which they are). His monologue is sometimes okay, but every single joke starts with, "this is a true story..." He can't even tell a joke like a human being. Plus, Leno's "bits" are horrible and his interviews are awful.
The funny is that, in his younger days as a standup comedian, Jay Leno was a really funny, interesting and "edgy" guy. He wasn't dumbed down, he wasn't so afraid of saying something controversial and he wasn't completely unwilling to let his personality show. I have heard other comedians talk about knowing Leno "back in the day" and it is like they are talking about a completely different guy - a guy I might actually want to watch have his own late night show!
Meanwhile, Letterman, to me, is a comedic genius. It doesn't matter to me who the guest is or what the bit is, he makes it funny and enjoyable to watch. His interviews don't all begin with, "So, did you do anything fun this Summer" and then go into a drawn-out story that was agreed upon pre-show. No, he does an actual interview, as performned by a funny human being and not a joke-telling robot. Sure, Letterman's got questions written down and I am sure the guests have been briefed about what they'll likely talk about, but if someone says something strange or interesting, Letterman reacts to it. Whereas Jay just nods his head, gives his scripted response and moves on to the next thing that starts with, "So...I understand you have a grandmother?"
Next time you watch Leno, pay attention to the questions he asks and see how many of them are completely ridiculous questions that serve no other purpose than to get the guest into the agreed upon story/anecdote that he/she is supposed to tell. Jay will bring up a completely random topic and the guest will magically not only know what he's talking about, but also have a story to tell about it. And, amazingly, Jay will not be surprised by the story and he'll have some "witty banter" to go along with it.
I also agree with assessment that Dave's style appeals to a more intelligent crowd in general and that limits him in the ratings. You turn on Jay Leno and you are getting a cookie-cutter, middle-of-the-road talk show with some good guests, some lame bits and you know he isn't going to say anything weird or unusual. It's that old-cliche about playing to "middle-America." There are more people who want to watch that and there always will be.
Heck, my own mother, who has a great sense of humor and whom I would consider to be a very intelligent person, hates Letterman and watches Leno all the time. I've asked her about it and she even recognizes the same huge faults in Leno that I do, but she doesn't care. She is there for the talk show and the guests, not the comedy and the host.
This is not to say I am incredibly smart for liking Letterman or she is dumb for liking Leno, just that they appeal to completely different personalities. And, in general, I would guess that Letterman's audience is a more intelligent bunch, for the same reason Lenny Bruce, Sam Kinison and Richard Pryor had a more intelligent overall audience than Gallagher, Jeff Foxworthy and Carrot Top. Okay, maybe that's a little much, but you get my point.
By the way, Jay's best "bit" is the whole "Jaywalking" thing, right? Anyone who is a fan of Howard Stern (as I am) will recognize that bit as something Howard has done for the last 15 years or so. And I mean "done" in a funny way, not the lame way Leno does it. If you're going to steal an idea from someone who is funnier and more talented than you are, don't completely mess it up.
Of course, what the heck do I know? I appear to be the only person in America who watches Jimmy Kimmel Live every night!
Okay, that's my non-sports rant for the month. I hope you didn't mind too much. As much as I love baseball, I occasionally have thoughts about other things and, since I have a pretty sizable audience now, I feel the need to share those thoughts with you once in a while.
San Francisco (Rueter) -105 over St. Louis (Simontachi)
Philadelphia (Myers) -115 over Chicago (Zambrano)
Milwaukee (Kinney) +160 over Houston (Robertson)
Arizona (Webb) -120 over Colorado (Neagle)
San Diego (Eaton) +210 over Los Angeles (Brown)
Boston (Wakefield) -170 over Tampa Bay (Gonzalez)
Total to date: + $2,005
W/L record: 160-151 (0-1 yesterday for -100 and I almost won the bet for +$350, but the D-Rays blew the game.)
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