by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

People try their whole lives to get on Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show.” So you could say the Lions are the envy of the nation.

The Lions don’t see it that way. JAY: Later this month, Britney Spears is playing Detroit. She’s a two-touchdown favorite over the Lions! Ba-dum-bump.

JAY: The Lions lost again. They’re 0-11. No. Wait. They’re 0-10. . . . On SUNDAY, they’ll be 0-11.


It’s a regular part of Leno’s monologues. He skewers politicians, he skewers celebrities — then he skewers the Lions. JAY: The travel industry says the average person will travel 100 miles this Thanksgiving. Except the Detroit Lions. They can’t travel 10 yards! Ba-dump-bump! JAY: The CIA today revealed why the Taliban have been fighting so badly — they’re using an old Detroit Lions playbook! Hiii-oooo!

Now, I really like Jay Leno. And it’s true, on the one hand, this is more national attention than the Lions ever got before.

On the other hand, the same could be said if the National Enquirer published a photo of William Clay Ford in a thong.

So in an effort to see how this whole thing started — and, for the Lions’ sake, how long it will go on — I called the people at the “Tonight Show.”

And now I know where they get their sense of humor.

Just call her Dasher

See, I figured Jay is too busy to come up with all that material himself. So when a person answered the phone, I asked to speak to one of the show’s joke writers.

“I’m sorry,” I was told. “The writers don’t speak.”

Oh. So they e-mail their jokes to Jay?

“No. They talk to Jay.”

But you said they don’t speak.

“They don’t speak to the press.”

Oh. Well, who does?

“The person you need to speak to is —-“

Now, I put in those dashes because I am not allowed to tell you to whom I spoke. I can tell you she was a woman. At least I think she was a woman. She had a woman’s name. Which I can’t tell you.

I can tell you she was very nice and had a good sense of humor. And she said the following:

“We have 13 writers. The reason we don’t put them on the phone is because it’s a community of writers. They all collaborate. So there’s no way to say this is the person who wrote that joke. It wouldn’t be fair.”

I wanted to tell her there was no cash prize for my interview. But I didn’t want to spoil the camaraderie.

“It’s OK,” I said. “I just wanted to get an idea of how the Lions became such a popular part of the monologue. Perhaps you can tell me.”

She said she would try. She said Jay himself often takes calls like mine, but at the moment “everyone is busy with sweeps.”

Sweeps, Sure. The Lions can’t stop those, either. JAY: Hey, Kevin, what’s the difference between the Detroit Lions and the Taliban?

KEVIN: What?

JAY: The Taliban have a running game! Thanks, folks! Tip your waitresses!

Lions in league with Clippers

“Jay has ridiculed a lot of sports teams over the years,” said —-. “You know, like the Clippers.”

Oh, no. Not the Clippers.

“It’s nothing personal. Jay likes to take whatever’s in the news and make it funny.”

How does he decide when the time is right for Lions material?

“It’s hard to say. Sometimes, he’ll be light on sports jokes.”

Great. So when he runs out of Ottawa Senators material. . . .

“Listen,” I said. “Have you gotten any angry mail from Lions fans?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” —- said. “Why? Are people there mad?”

“Well, no. I think some of us like the attention.”

“There you go. And it’s the attention of 5.8 million people. That’s more than they get for a game, isn’t it?”

“Oh, uh, yeah. Unless those Green Bay fans drive in. . . . “

By this point, I had what I needed. I thanked her and asked for the spelling of her name. Which is when she told me they weren’t allowed to give their names. Only “NBC Spokesperson.”

“Sorry,” she said.

That’s OK. In fact, now that I think about it, this whole thing ties together. Leno has taken to the Lions. But the Lions should take to him.

They could employ the whole “no-name” philosophy. Then their game stories would read like this:

“The Lions’ quarterback, who shall remain nameless, overthrew his receiver, who was unidentified, and hit the helmet of his lineman, who was unavailable for comment after he lost consciousness.”

Until they win, it’s either that, or do what Charlie Batch says he does. “Go to sleep by 11, so I don’t hear any of Jay’s jokes.”

That’s the good news for the Lions.

Here’s the bad news: The Clippers have a better record.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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