Recurring segments are a staple of late night talk shows and have been since Steve Allen literally created the genre when he debuted as host of The Tonight Show in 1954. Johnny Carson perfected the art form - with Carnac the Magnificent becoming the benchmark for all late night talk show hosts - during his decades-long run as host of the show.
Today host Jay Leno continues the tradition with a slate of recurring segments. Put simply, they are comedy bits - either a sketch, routine or gag - that the talk show and host returns to regularly. David Letterman has his Small Town News and Top Ten Lists. Jimmy Fallon has his Thank You notes.
Leno's segments draw heavily on his wildly successful stand up career. Leno is less likely to place himself in a comedy sketch, ala Stephen Colbert or Fallon, or use props and sight gags to get a laugh, like Jimmy Kimmel and Letterman. Which is not to say that Leno is more cerebral or more word play. His segments merely rely on his ability to turn a moment into a punchline. And he does it amazingly well.
If you're a fan, you have your Leno favorites. But if you're new to the show, how do catch up on the joke? Start here, with 5 of the most popular recurring segments and short description of each:
Leno is probably best known for his recurring segment called Headlines. Using real headlines literally ripped from newspapers across the globe - or at least clipped and mounted from newspapers across the globe - Leno points out the foibles and fumbles of journalists and headline writers. These headlines typically have a misspelling or unintentional double entendre. The segment typically runs on Tuesday nights. If you're looking for some controversy, it is alleged that rival talk show host David Letterman says that he came up with the concept for Headlines before Leno with his version, called Small Town News, and that Leno's version is just a copy of the original.
Playing of his name, Jaywalking is at its core a man-on-the-street segment. Here we find Leno out amongst the people with a camera crew and a microphone stopping people in the street (or in the park or sightseeing) to ask them questions about current events and other world news. The segment often produces unexpected moments from everyday folks who may not know who a famous person is - like Bill Clinton - or can't identify who lives in the White House. More than anything, the cameras and meeting Leno throws people off and they're more apt to deliver silly answers to simple questions.
In what might be called an homage to Carson's Art Fern, this segment, which doesn't have a specific name, finds Leno dressed as Bob Johnson, host of an afternoon TV program on NBCCC, the Nothing But Cheap Crap Channel. During breaks in the show, Leno's character hawks crazy items for sale, typically parodies of popular gift items and fads. After a while, the skit element was dropped in favor of Leno's straight delivery of the comedic gifts.
Howie Mandel and Ross the Intern
TV personalities Howie Mandel and Ross the Intern are possibly the most recognizable celebrity guests on the show. During Mandel's run with the show, Leno was send the comedian and TV host out to pull practical jokes on unsuspecting people - and videotape the results. Leno also employed his real-life intern, Ross the Intern, to take part in man-on-the-street interviews and other gags.
The Fine Print
One of Leno's more clever skits, The Fine Print finds Leno at his desk spotlighting the fine print on everyday products. The fine print is, of course, made up and entirely false - but the gag is to have the print reveal a truism about the product.