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Leno entertains with the O.J. trial and other familiar monologue lines


Jay Leno wasted no time getting to his favorite subject.

No sooner had he bounded onstage at the Lyric Saturday night than he told the ready-to-be-receptive audience, "I want to thank you all for taking time off from watching the O.J. trial."

Never mind that the trial was in recess anyway. Mr. Leno has made the Simpson trial a mainstay of his "Tonight Show." He's used it as ceaseless fodder for his monologues, turned the show's "Dancing Itos" into an evening ritual and even invited professional houseguest and media darling Kato Kaelin on for a chat.

Defense attorney Johnnie Cochran, he marveled from the stage, is one smooth character. "He's even got O.J. believing he didn't do it now."

The Lyric audience, whose members had paid upward of $50 to benefit the Save-A-Heart Foundation, howled appreciatively. Mr. Leno was on a roll, moving effortlessly from one subject to the next. From O.J., the patter shifted to cars, airlines, Dr. Kevorkian, condoms, "Star Trek," James Bond, VCRs, his parents. . . .

You get the idea. More than a few audience members probably went home with whiplash, as they tried to follow his train of thought as it made one sharp right turn after another.

Wearing a gray suit, blue shirt and gold-and-black checked tie, Mr. Leno spent little time chatting with the audience, save for ddTC few questions about what kind of cars people drove and what they did for a living. Told one man was a banker, he won the longest sustained applause of the evening by asking, "What's your job? When the line gets too long, you make them close another window?"

What he did was string together roughly 70 minutes worth of monologue, some old (the bit about his dad meeting Sting dates back to his pre-"Tonight" period, and is still a riot), some new ("When is the Save-An-Ear Foundation?" he asked when an audience member complained he couldn't hear), but all -- judging by the audience -- funny.

Unlike Jerry Seinfeld, who spent considerable time at last year's Save-A-Heart benefit talking about himself and answering questions, Mr. Leno stuck to the script. But he did offer some revealing insights into the human condition. He explained why men always need to have control of the TV remote -- it has nothing to do with dominance or the hunting instinct, he insisted, "we're just looking for naked women on cable."

He wondered why movie theaters serve refreshments in such huge portions, asking "Why would anyone buy a drink that's two liters larger than their bladder?"

And he spent the last 10 minutes or so spinning stories about Mom and Dad Leno, a rich vein of humor he's been tapping for at least a decade. Besides the story of his dad meeting Sting in an elevator ("What kind of a name is Sting?"), there was the time his mom went to the video store to rent "Sister Act" but was given "Basic Instinct" instead ("Pull the evil machine's plug out from the wall and the tape will pop out," he told his shrieking mother over the phone from California) and his father's decision to spend an extra $275 to double the guarantee on his new windows, from 15 to 30 years ("Dad, you're 83 years old!" Mr. Leno pointed out).

Sure, a lot of people had heard this stuff before, and some of the jokes were tied to events that happened years ago -- like Kentucky Fried Chicken changing its name to KFC. But the material remains funny, and Mr. Leno, stalking the stage in a manner more reminiscent of the manic Richard Lewis than his normal "Tonight Show" demeanor, didn't seem to disappoint anyone.

The only sour note stemmed from the Lyric's normally crystalline acoustics, which were abysmal Saturday. Not only couldn't Mr. Leno be heard in the back, but a persistent echo made him hard to be understood in the front.

In ceremonies before Mr. Leno took the stage, the Save-A-Heart Foundation presented a pair of awards. Howard Torman, medical correspondent for "CBS This Morning," was given the Jerry Turner Memorial Award for Outstanding Broadcasting. Louis Denrich, president of Valu Food Supermarkets, was named the foundation's 1995 Humanitarian honoree.

The evening was emceed by a clearly nervous WJZ-TV news anchor Denise Koch, who noted that she had planned to share those duties with her former partner, Al Sanders, who died of lung cancer May 5.

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