Leno’s set full of laughs while the seats remain empty

Originally published in the October 22, 2010 issue

Pussycats, frozen eggs and male reduction surgery are topics rarely ever broached in the same conversation. However, when Jay Leno comes to town, they become as commonplace as discussing the weather over your morning Cheerios.

As the first act to play in the newly christened Renaissance Coliseum, Leno delivered a high profile name the university can hang their hats on. Despite the distinguished reputation of the performer, there was an undeniable emptiness in the theater as the man of the hour took the stage.

The low attendance numbers probably had less to do with the headliner and more to do with the $75 price tag for non-Bradley students and alums. Because whether Team Leno or Conan, late-night lamenters must admit that Leno didn’t get where he was today by simply flying by the seat of his pants. He got there because of his comedic presence that has gotten him past the fickle network television people for years and carved out a niche audience who enjoys crude humor and judgmental monologues.

After a somewhat dry and abrupt beginning, Leno picked up the pace, covering more interesting topics than his opening of news and airline debacles. There was the token Pope joke, along with Sarah Palin and Bill Clinton one-liners, a round of terrorist jokes and some outdated and overly used material, including some  John Edwards’ sex tape jokes.

Once he loosened up, however, he worked up a flow that made the audience feel comfortable – except when they weren’t.

Much of his material was clearly directed towards a college-aged audience, but considering many of the audience members were above 50, many of the jokes intended for a younger crowd fell flat. There was an abnormally long section in which Leno discussed his desperate need for male reduction surgery and dream of wearing shorts in public, which just made things awkward for everyone.

There were several hilarious topics focusing on more benign humor as well. He introduced the idea of smart cars running on urine, and the problem of men filling up the tank. “Most men can’t even hit the toilet bowl,” he said.

He also touched on fertility and women freezing their eggs for later use. This came with a warning that little Johnny leaving the freezer door open could wipe out the whole family.

He spent quite a bit of time discussing America’s obsession with fatty foods, a somewhat played out subject in my opinion.

The best material came from his description of his relationship with his wife’s cat. The image of a pompous feline sharing quarters with Leno was enough to get most audience members to laugh out loud, along with the idea of him traipsing around in people’s bushes looking for it.

By far the most disappointing aspect of the show was there was virtually no mention of Peoria, Bradley or the surrounding community, save for a bit about engineers being the future of our country tacked on at the end. With almost 90 minutes of show time, you’d think the guy could have come up with something to make fun of us about (goodness knows there is plenty of material, as anyone from Pekin, Creve Coeur, and Brimfield can attest to).

All told, featuring Jay Leno in the brand new arena (excuse me, “coliseum”) was supposed to showcase the enormity and grandeur that the giant sum of money helped build. I’d say that this goal was met; almost everyone in the room felt its enveloping size.
Emptiness has a way of doing that.