The top writer for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno offers some reflection on late night’s influence but mainly shares jokes and anecdotes.
Macks (How to Be Funny, 2003), who has also written for most of the top awards shows and many of the leading politicians, is more ambitious in theme than execution. He promises a book about “the larger meaning of how late-night comedy monologues and sketches can influence and impact us,” but he mostly discusses Leno and the experience of working for him. Leno, it seems, is a great guy who won the late-night ratings wars because he was the most talented and likable. Macks knows how tough it is to be funny night after night, and he has plenty of respect for anyone who does it. Throughout, he borrows jokes from all of them, along with reprinting Leno’s first monologue post-9/11 in its entirety and chronicling the arc of Bill Clinton as a font of material. Readers get a sense of what it’s like to have the job of “feeding the monster,” writing 100 or so jokes per day for a comedian who will select 15 or 20 from among a thousand. Macks calls himself “Jonny the Joke Boy,” and though he moved to comedy from running political campaigns for Democratic candidates, he and Leno never let political affiliation get in the way of a laugh: “When it comes to jokes, I’m a writer first, Democrat 615th.” The author has little in the way of dirt to share, though his contempt for the presidential campaign of Al Gore is evident throughout (he’s much more of a Clinton apologist), and he praises “Charlie Sheen, a great guy and a great guest.” But mainly he shares jokes, his own and those of others.
A book that seems to have been written because a writer has to do something after his regular gig of two decades disappears.