Comedian Jay Leno took time off from cruising the highways of California in his cool cars to pay a visit to the stage of Merrill Auditorium in Portland on Saturday night.

The 69-year-old former host of “The Tonight Show” spends a good deal of his time now with celebrity auto enthusiasts, or “car nerds” as he likes to call them, on his CNBC show, “Jay Leno’s Garage.” But he showed that he still has a gift for old-fashioned stand-up comedy during his 100-minute performance in Portland.

Jay Leno Sebastian Scheiner/Associated Press

Dressed in a comfortable-looking business suit (he did a whole bit about proper attire), he moved easily about center stage, his longish hair forming a soft white halo around his familiar face.

His humor was mostly current (broadly defined) and was welcomed by the large crowd as if it came from an old friend who knew just how to make them laugh. Only mildly risqué by today’s standards, he proved to be the perennial regular guy facing a world that has gone just a little bit mad.

Leno employed some physical and verbal mannerisms to good effect. He fluttered his tie at the crowd to create a sense of weirdness or used it to hide his face in feigned embarrassment. “Really?” was a familiar rhetorical question posed as he sought to highlight some puzzling cultural trend he had observed.

Ads that warn of the dire side effects of medications competed with prostate jokes (ask Alexa for a test) for time in the comic’s trip through modern life. Questions about the logistics of binge-watching TV were paired with thoughts that new varieties of junk food might come with a free headstone.

Unlike men, Leno observed, women have their brains in their heads. But they still mystify him, especially when they show great enthusiasm for cats and container stores (just empty boxes!).

Political jokes, though relatively few, featured a Joe Biden shoulder massage and a suggestion that Bernie Sanders might be best approached by an archaeologist. He hinted that Rudy Giuliani might need to be quarantined.

Lines about political correctness relied upon the comedian’s seasoned sense for where the boundaries of good taste could perhaps benefit from a gentle nudge.

Leno talked about growing up in Andover, Massachusetts, with an Italian-American father and a Scotland-born mother who called him Jaymie. He seemed to enjoy putting on a falsetto brogue to tell stories about his mother’s frugality and misadventures during her visits to Hollywood. A story about his wife’s reaction to an unexpected visit from British royalty also drew a big laugh.

Though delivered in an earlier time slot than in his heyday, Jay Leno showed that he still has plenty of laughs to help ease the worries of the day.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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