Friday, June 30, 2017

Book Review: 'Monologue: What Makes America Laugh Before Bed' by Jon Macks

Monologue: What Makes America Laugh Before Bed 
By Jon Macks

Review by David Wineberg

Jon Macks wrote for Jay Leno, during Leno’s entire stint as Tonight Show host. Macks churned out a hundred jokes based on politics and pop culture. Every day. Jay Leno added them to his total of a thousand, and then spent the day whittling the list down to a monologue. Every day. Macks now freelances for various tv shows and personalities, again both pop cultural and political.

The book is immensely gossipy, and therefore ephemeral. Many of the names he drops will be meaningless to readers in 10 years’ time. He says at least 25 times the reader should google someone he’s talking about if they’re under 30. If there’s another edition in 10 years, it will be 75 times.

There are really two books here. One is a book of jokes, both Macks’ and others, which range from Huh? to hilarious. The other book is a Hollywood tribute to stars. How the hosts handle things, how the guests handle things. How the public handles things about the personalities they skewer. Macks limits himself by loving everyone. Everyone is great, everyone is terrific. It’s a Hollywood B movie about working in showbiz. The result is there’s no penetrating criticism, no revelations, no new insight. He skims like USA Today. He goes wide but not deep. The most insightful thing Macks says is that in his new timeslot, Stephen Colbert could be the biggest kingmaker – bigger than the Koch brothers and Soros, without spending billions.

You can tell one host’s jokes from another by their style. You can just hear them telling these selections on tv. My own favorite in the book is this from David Letterman: Mitt Romney said he liked to fire people. Well, there’s a pretty good message to send to Middle America. When Rick Perry heard that, he said “That’s nothing. I like to execute people.” 

Interestingly (to me alone), Macks has an “everyman” he uses for setups. He calls him Joe Doakes. He uses Joe three times in the course of the book. Joe Doakes is the everyman Robert Benchley created for his New Yorker pieces in the 1920s and he played Doakes in his short subjects (For those under 50, google Benchley). I think Jon Macks is deeper than he makes out to be.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of David Wineberg. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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