Standup in his blood
I’ve always loved standup, but I never really thought that it would be my job. As it turned out, I was a standup comedian who was lucky enough to get a talk show and lucky that it lasted for 22 years. To me, standup is the purest form of comedy—you really find out if something is funny. A lot of times you do jokes on TV and they don’t really land, but people laugh anyway because there are signs and applause meters and all that kind of stuff. But when people buy a ticket for a standup performance, they only laugh if they think it’s funny because they’re paying for it.
The continuity of comedy
I don’t think comedy has changed a whole lot. Music changes and fashion changes, but jokes don’t change much—what’s funny is funny. If there’s any difference today, it’s probably in terms of the audience’s attention span. When you watch [Bob] Newhart on The Tonight Show from the ’70s, he might do a nine-minute monologue with a full minute setup. Nowadays, you have to hit it right out of the box. You have to come out and get a laugh from the first second, or else people just move on or change the channel.
I love doing this show (Jay Leno’s Garage)—just being around anything that rolls, explodes, or makes noise. Kids have phones now and can go places virtually. But I grew up in a rural area about 20 miles south of the New Hampshire border, and back then you needed to get physically from point A to point B. I remember uptown was seven miles away—if you rode your bike, it took the whole day to get there and by the time you did everybody was gone. So you couldn’t wait until you got your driver’s license because that was like the greatest day of your life.
Jay Leno’s April 17 performance at Paramount Theatre will be rescheduled; see paramountaurora.com for more details.
Photo courtesy Guttman