Presidential debates, celebrities making headlines, stories in the news — these are all grist for late-night comedy and we write about them often here.
But when you stop and think about it, the real meat-and-potatoes of late-night comedy doesn’t have anything to do with those things. Jerry Seinfeld, that great sage of show business in general and comedy in particular, indirectly made this point when he appeared on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” recently.
Seinfeld observed that one of the key challenges of doing a late-night show night in and night out is to create bits that could be repeated on various nights — bits that the audience enjoys despite (or even because of) their repetition.
It’s the age-old dilemma: What does a late-night show do when there aren’t really enough hot topics in the news to prop up all the comedy night after night? The answer: You go back to the kinds of bits Seinfeld so wisely identified.
For Jay Leno — who, whether you like him or not, is still the reigning king of late-night these days — the most reliable bits are things like “Headlines” (in which he reads funny bits from local newspapers), “Jay-Walking” (where he interviews people on the street) and “Police Blotter,” which is kind of a spinoff on “Headlines” in which he reads ridiculous, true stories from the petty crime columns in small-town papers.
Silly as this bit might sound, it always makes us laugh — such as the bit Leno read Friday night on “The Tonight Show” in which a man robbing a liquor store showed the clerk his driver’s license because the clerk demanded he show him an ID to prove he was 21.
What can we say about Fallon’s “Thank You Notes”? This bit, seen Friday’s on “Late Night,” is so popular that it has spawned two best-selling books. Here’s why: