Not everyone likes Jay Leno, but Hollywood gave him a proper sendoff on Thursday night, as he hosted his last Tonight Show after 22 years (with a short, infamous Conan O'Brien interlude). And at the end of the show, as Leno teared up and self-deprecatingly talked about his love for and pride in the people he's worked with at The Tonight Show, it's hard to wish him ill.*
"In closing, I want to quote Johnny Carson — who was the greatest guy to ever do this job — and he said, 'I bid you all a heartfelt goodnight,'" Leno said. After acknowledging that he had brought the room down, he let Garth Brooks end the show with his hit "Friends in Low Places," which turned into a singalong with the standing audience. That's how Leno's Tonight Show ends (for real this time). But it wasn't all tears and hugs.
A lot of the laughs came from Leno's guest, Billy Crystal — his first guest 22 years ago (and final guest the last time he lost the show). To mark Leno's new retirement, Crystal brought out a surprise, the "Shut Your Von Trapp Family Singers" with their parody of "So Long, Farewell" from The Sound of Music. Crystal's singing was passable, and he got mixed performances from a bizarre but sometimes impressive list of stars who came out to take a verse. Oprah got the best line: "So long, farewell, you really raised the bar / If you were me, you'd buy them all a car."
If Leno has warm, familial feelings toward the staff of his show, it doesn't extend to the executives at NBC — as he made clear in his final monologue. Otherwise, it was a compendium of his greatest hits — or, depending on your tastes, a reminder of why you're looking forward to Jimmy Fallon taking the reins:
If you don't think Kim Kardashian and Jim Parsons count as celebrities, the reel of people offering advice to Leno is admirably broad and deep — A-list celebrities and politicians, including President Obama. Matt Damon drops an F-bomb. Dana Carvey does a Leno impersonation. Miley Cyrus puts a dent in Leno's car. Watch:
*It's also hard to bedgrudge Conan O'Brien his parting shot at Leno. On Conan Thursday night, O'Brien got a pretty good dig in at his former nemesis. "NBC has the Olympics," he said in his monologue. "It's a big deal. NBC will finally get to show somebody who's okay with passing the torch." After a long audience laugh, Conan gave a thumbs up and grinned: "I allowed myself one, but it was a good one."