Thursday, May 20, 2010

Does Jay Leno Really Hate Libraries (Or Is He Just Not Funny)?

Hey, don't look at me, I just tell the jokes, I don't write 'em.

On the May 11, 2010 edition of the Tonight Show Jay Leno told the following joke:

People here in Los Angeles are upset about the mayor's proposed plan to cut the budget of libraries.

This could affect as many as nine people.

Yes, the audience's reaction was similar to yours: Silence, with not a hint of smile. Guffaws went on strike, giggles called in sick.

Was it because audience members and viewers at home love and value libraries and found the joke inappropriate given hard times?

While that's entirely possible, the real reason that the joke flatlined was because it was fundamentally flawed. A one-liner with opening proposition (set-up) followed by punchline lives and dies upon whether the implicit premise (subtext) is true (or true enough) and so well-known and accepted by listeners that the punchline pays off the opening by tacit reference to the subtext.

In this joke, the subtext was a stereotype: People in Los Angeles are world-famous for either not reading, avoiding books as if they're bill collectors, never using libraries, or not even knowing what a library is.

I guess you were unaware of that negative stereotype about Los Angelenos. You're excused - there are so many to keep track of. Yet I've lived in Los Angeles for forty-three years and it's news to me. Many things, humorous or otherwise, may be said about the denizens of this city. That we don't read or patronize the Los Angles Public Library system is not one of them.

This insight from Booktryst's mole within the LAPL:

"The one thing we have a lot of is users--no staff, no materials, no budget, no open hours -- but lots of users!"
The cutting-edge crackerjack writer on Leno's staff was, apparently, so far ahead of the pop-culture curve that the rest of us were left behind. Or, more likely, he/she had absolutely no idea what he/she was talking about.

In this case, however, it's okay to shoot the messenger. Leno approves every single word of his monologue; he is famous for working well into the wee hours with his staff to collect material and craft jokes. He must have been desperate for material that night, or he is losing (or has completely lost) his ear for comedy.

Martin Gomez, Chief Librarian for Los Angeles, was certainly not amused:

Let's take the joke's formula, substitute the elements, and provide a subtext and punchline that works because there is a degree of truth to a broadly accepted premise:

People across the country are upset that Jay Leno told a lousy joke about people in L.A. and libraries.

This could affect as many as nine people under 60 who still watch his show.

And another:

People across the country are upset that Jay Leno told a lousy joke about people in L.A. and libraries.

This could affect the nine people who are actually able to stay awake during his monologue.

The jokes work (if they work at all) because it is generally accepted that during the recent NBC-Conan O'Brien-Leno contretemps, Jay Leno came out loser and still champion in the worst sense.

Another tack on the formula:

People across the country are upset that the KFC Double Down chicken sandwich has no bun.

This could affect the nine KFC regulars who have yet to experience KFC's bunless Double-Bypass.


This could affect the nine people still trying to digest KFC's Country Gravy Soup with Mashed Potato Dumplings.

And finally: 

People here in Los Angeles are upset that Jay Leno seems to think we're all illiterate without a clue and don't know a library from a lavatory.

This could affect the nine people in L.A. who actually read Leno's book, Leading With My Chin, pointing at each word with their lips moving while on the toilet, and thought it brilliant.

Jay Leno's domestic life is none of our business. What happened when he got home after that show we will never know. But I like to think that his wife, Mavis, crowned him, but good, and it wasn't as King of Comedy. Mavis Leno loves books and is interested in Dickens, Pepys, Proust, Colette, Rebecca West, Paul & Jane Bowles, Barbara Pym, Alice Thomas Ellis, Penelope Lively, and Dorothy Sayers.

Mavis Leno must be one of the only nine people in L.A. who Jay thinks have been affected by LAPL budget cuts. It's not funny. But then again, neither is Leno. Time for him to shut up and sit down. A stale loaf of bread is fresher than this stand-up.

Lead from LISNews. Full story at FishbowlLA.


  1. Is there an option for "hateful, insensitive, and stupid"?

  2. When L.A.'s libraries were threatened by Prop. 13, its author, Howard Jarvis, dismissively said that you could throw a bowling ball through a library and not strike anyone. Yet, L. A.'s voters stood up for libraries a few years later by voting to tax themselves for library expansion and re-building. Library lovers/voters speak up now.

  3. lol @ people who seriously get mad at jay leno monologues

  4. i wonder how many of the people outraged over this have a kindle.

  5. Yes, he has lost his comedy touch.

    I think his performance at the White House Press Corps Dinner is proof of that.

    And I liked your version of the joke much better than his. (I'll bet they added canned laughter for the TV audience.)

  6. Leno is one of those people who thinks that the people he hangs out with represent people at large. As far as I know, Leno hangs around with people that own ridiculously expensive cars - frequently an obscene amount of them that go to car shows, rallies and concourses all the time. Likely those people don't go to too many public libraries. It's sort of the "let them eat cake" phenomenon.

  7. You are just right Vincent. But there's something really sad in people who just don't give a damn for anyone else...

    Not all rich people are ignorant selfish self absorbed, though, as many educated and wealthy people know the importance of free access to information for poor people.

  8. Libraries are being cut EVERYWHERE! And they are used EVERYWHERE! Jay Leno's joke was just another display of his poor choices.

    Conan should be the Host not Leno.

  9. My word he struck a nerve... It's a joke people. If you want to be serious with the issues watch night line....


Subscribe to BOOKTRYST by Email