The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Review | Jay Leno falls flat at State Farm Center, outshined by opener

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Jay Leno speaks at the 2020 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song concert honoring Garth Brooks at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. on March 4, 2020.

Former “The Tonight Show” host Jay Leno took to the State Farm Center Saturday night to deliver a set for the University’s annual Moms Weekend. 

Leno stepped under the spotlights at 8:30 p.m. after his friend and fellow comedian Arsenio Hall opened at 7:30 p.m.

Hall and Leno performed on a classic black box stage dropped right in the middle of where the basketball court normally is, set in front of nearly half the venue’s seating, which was approximately three-quarters full.

A former talk show host himself, Hall’s set focused on an array of topics including his upbringing, his girlfriend, O.J. Simpson, the Kardashians and how COVID-19 affected the release of “Coming 2 America.”

Hall delivered a terrific set — the 68-year-old comedian would bring up a random aspect of his life and build on it for minutes, then seamlessly transition to another topic.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

With a delivery similar to Chris Rock, Hall received plenty of laughs throughout his performance. The crowd particularly loved when he got going on O.J. Simpson’s recent passing.

“Comedians all over the world are mourning today because of the passing of O.J. Simpson,” Hall said. 

He kept making ruthless jokes about Simpson, who is widely believed to have murdered his wife and friend but was acquitted by a jury in 1995.

“O.J. said that his biggest regret in life was that he never became a preacher,” Hall said. “But if he was a preacher, he would’ve had to preach the nine commandments.”

Hall also touched on a recent experience where he took his girlfriend and her parents to see Dave Matthews Band, a group he wasn’t initially fond of.

“I didn’t like Dave Matthews because there was just too much fiddle,” Hall said before imitating the sound a fiddle makes by screeching into the microphone. “We don’t like the fiddle because it’s like the soundtrack of slavery … the fiddle is like a racist violin.”

Yet, the comedian said his mind changed about the group after he went to see them in concert, accidentally eating a chocolate bar dosed with magic mushrooms before the show.

Because of this mistake, Hall hallucinated musical notes flowing out of the band on stage and saw Dave Matthews look him in the eyes, saying, “We fired the fiddle player.”

Hall’s set ended at approximately 8:05 p.m., walking off the stage to massive applause from the crowd before the show took a 25-minute intermission.

Next up was the headliner: Jay Leno. 

The 73-year-old comedian walked onto the stage as the venue erupted in applause and he immediately dove into the COVID-19 pandemic, cracking jokes about vaccines, Dr. Anthony Fauci and more.

Leno attempted to use observational comedy throughout the set, similar to the approach of comedy legend Jerry Seinfeld; the crowd was treated to a lot of “What’s the deal with this?” and “What’s the deal with that?”

However, after getting off to a decent start on stage, everything went downhill.

Leno’s set was sporadic and inconsistent. He’d talk about one topic for a few minutes — whether it be advertising or the #MeToo movement — building to a punchline that would usually fall flat, then dropping the topic to talk about something else.

Leno’s worst moments on stage weren’t in his dull comedy. Roughly five minutes into his set while he was in the middle of a bit he completely lost his bearings.

Leno went silent for approximately a minute, and as he walked to the left side of the stage you could hear him whispering to himself, trying to remember what on earth he was talking about.

The crowd was completely silent; people were looking at one another, wondering what on earth they were watching. Someone then yelled out from the crowd, “We love you, Jay,” a comment he accepted enthusiastically. 

Finally, Leno remembered what he was trying to say and picked up his bit, acting like nothing even happened. It led to another mediocre punchline before Leno started on another topic.

Then, just when it seemed like Leno was bouncing back, his mind went blank again; another minute-long pause.

It was hard not to get deja vu at this moment. Leno returned to the left stage, whispering to himself, “How much does lobster cost again?”

Once again, the same crowd member yelled, “We love you, Jay,” but Leno dismissed the comment in frustration, saying, “Yeah, I know, I know.”

Leno attributed these brain freezes to not getting enough sleep.

“Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep,” he said.

Whether that be true or not, it was clear that Leno was unprepared for his performance. From the brain freezes to the unorganized set, Leno fell flat for the excited crowd.

During the set, Leno’s age, but more prominently, his bigotry, really showed. He seemed to forget about previous criticisms from 2015 when he came under fire for asking a guest on his talk show to give him his “gayest look.”

Despite this, Leno dove into controversial topics, talking about them as insensitively as possible and dismissing his humor by making fun of cancel culture, saying that everyone is too sensitive in the current day.

“Now you’ve got gender fluidity and all of that,” he said.

He then struggled to remember the word “transgender,” asking the crowd, “What’s the term for that again?”

One moment that truly encapsulated his set was when he said that he had a joke that should appeal to both sides of the political spectrum, something he said is very hard to do nowadays.

“Can I try it out for you?” he asked the crowd, which responded with an eruption of cheers.

Leno started talking about a very charismatic politician, “the Obama type,” as he said. This politician was set to give a speech at a convention, and much of the audience left the event because countless people gave very long speeches before the young man.

The politician was discouraged to see the crowd funnel out, but there was still one man near the stage who remained to watch his speech. Seeing the one man remain in the crowd encouraged the politician to get up and deliver his speech.

After his speech, the politician went up to the man to ask him what inspired him to stay. The man’s answer — the punchline of the joke — was, “I speak next.”

The crowd gave pity laughs, but at the end of the day, how was that joke supposed to unite a politically divided country? Where was the humor in that punchline? Is that really the best that Leno has?

Leno ended his set by reciting jokes he had heard other people tell before, a bit of a strange approach for someone with a long career in comedy.

It was 9:30 p.m. when the comedian made his big exit. Whether or not it was deserved, he received courteous applause from the crowd.

If someone were to take anything away from this show, it’s that Jay Leno needs to get off the stage and go back to his garage with his expansive car collection.

Despite the criticism in this article, fans still got some excellent comedy from Hall. The opener outshined the main act in every way possible.

It makes you think, “It’s a shame that Leno stole the main act from Hall,” but more prominently, it’ll make you think about how Leno and his boring humor stole “The Tonight Show” from the great Conan O’Brien in 2010.

If you ever have a chance to see Leno or familiarize yourself with his comedy, spare yourself.


[email protected]

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Jack Larson
Jack Larson, Audience Director
James Hoeck
James Hoeck, Photo Editor
Heyo! I am James Hoeck, a third-year undergraduate student in photography with a minor in media. I have been a part of Illini Media for two years, starting back in fall 2021. I hold the position of Photo Editor here at The Daily Illini. I also work as Photo Editor for Illini Media’s Illio Yearbook. There is a good chance you will see me out and about on campus taking photos for my personal work or for The DI and/or Illio! If you want to check out more of my work, visit my socials linked below.
ILLordle: Play now