If you like your jokes covered in bland gravy with a side of telegraphed punchlines, then Jay Leno's White House Correspondents Dinner was a feast for the funny bone. But if "mother-in-law jokes" aren't your thing, then Leno's performance may have left you wondering why the meal stopped after the appetizers.
Following Obama's impressively killer set, Leno seemed fidgety, over-reliant on his note-cards, and rushed, as he doled out 20 minutes of tame one-liners. All could've been forgiven if the material was strong. And it's not that they were groaners, but the majority of jokes felt uninspired and expected:
"Michelle Obama has made child obesity one of her causes...She has started a more intense program. It's called 'Leave No Child With A Bigger Behind.'"
Debunking the thought that Obama was "cold" or "aloof," Leno joked that he'd never noticed that:
"He loves to socialize. Health care, car companies."
Even Palin jokes, always a crowd pleaser, were met with a less than enthusiastic response. But that could've been because you could see the punchline coming from a mile away: "There's talk now that this oil slick could end up being bigger than that huge disaster they had up in Alaska." Here it comes..."Really? Bigger than Sarah Palin?"
Leno relied on cut-aways to "Tonight Show"-style bits ("Cash For Flunkers!" Heyo!) that seemed out of context without side-kick Kevin Eubanks lapping it up and the excited tourists in the front waiting to be high-fived.
All in all, the performance was standard Leno. Safe and inoffensive. And there's nothing wrong with that -- but it comes on the heels of Stephen Colbert and Wanda Sykes, comics who ruffled some feathers on their way to memorable speeches. Even Obama came out and took some risks with his material.
After a joke that was met with a mediocre response, Leno remarked that the crowd was "a tough room." Perhaps. But that may be because the bar has been raised so high that breaking out the arsenal of "McCain is old" jokes just won't cut it.
WATCH: (Leno's routine begins at the 17 minute mark)