Awkward? What’s awkward?
“History has shown that this can be awkward. How much effort has it taken not to make it awkward,” Matt Lauer asked Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon as they sat together at a table in the Beverly Hills Hotel.
“I would say hardly any effort at all,” Jay claimed.
“No effort!” Jimmy echoed.
“This time, I was asked,” Jay elaborated, in a taped and edited joint interview with his latest Tonight Show successor on NBC’s morning program, Today. “The last time I was told ‘this is what’s happening.’” Of course, Leno couldn’t resist adding, as Fallon watched poker-faced, “If he wasn’t here, would I still be here? Probably in another year so.”
Judging by the massive coverage on NBC and every other media outlet—including Leno’s slightly ambivalent appearance on Sunday’s CBS show 60 Minutes, which had to give Fallon pause—this is history’s most momentous handover since the Brits ceded Hong Kong to the Chinese Communists.
In this morning’s five-minute snippet of Jay and Jimmy making “hardly any” or “no” effort to avoid awkwardness—parts of the longer interview will air on future installment of Today—both late-night hosts wore funereal suits, starched white shirts and tightly cinched ties. Lauer, the most relaxed of the three in an open-necked blue-striped shirt, seemed to be playing the role of couples counselor.
“Are you ready to hand over the keys?” Lauer asked Leno, who had just described hosting Tonight as “the greatest job in show business” and “the only job I ever wanted.”
“Of course! Of course!” Leno answered, lending a certain insouciance to his line reading. “Yes. Yes. Please. No problem.”
Despite NBC’s relentless campaign to portray Jay and Jimmy as BFFs, in happy contrast to the humiliating train wreck of Leno and Conan O’Brien the first time this happened five years ago, Leno described his linkage with Fallon as “a professional relationship. I really admire him as a comic. I admire his professionalism and his ability to do comedy is really good.” (Actually, as Steve Kroft pointed out to Leno in Sunday’s 60 Minutes segment, he made the same positive noises about Conan. “Maybe I did,” Leno responded agreeably.)
“This is no pressure, coming from The Man! My gosh!” Fallon confided to Lauer, pretending that Leno had just favored him with superlatives and accolades instead of using the sort of bland language a conscientious teacher might put on the report card of a solid B student. “Obviously I look up to Jay,” he added. “We talk every couple of weeks or something like that and I just love his attention to detail. He roots for me…Whenever he’ll give advice, if I ask for advice, it’s ‘I saw that one piece. It was great!’ ”
Funnily enough, Fallon’s reports of Leno’s compliments were palpably more effusive than Leno’s actual compliments during the interview.
“Of course I’ll miss the show,” the 64-year-old Leno admitted about the prospect of making way for the 37-year-old Fallon. “Everybody thinks I’m gonna do another late-night show. No. I’m not.”
Lauer wouldn’t let it drop, asking Fallon about the possibility of “a month after you take this job, you pick up the trades: ‘Leno Back to Late-Night TV!’”
Fallon, understandably, tried to present a serene face. “He’s one of the best comedians out there.” Turning to Jay: “I think honestly you’re gonna love this.” Back to Matt: “He loves doing standup.”
And so on and so forth, with the ominous subtext fairly shrieking over the pleasant and heartwarming text.
Finally Matt invited Jay and Jimmy to compose letters to each other—in the manner of a parent sending their child off to college, and vice versa.
“I would say, don’t do any joke you don’t really believe in,” Jay obliged.
Jimmy responded: “I would say, Dear Jay, I hope I make you proud.”