Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld and David Letterman not only have careers as comedians in common, and each having had his own highly rated network television program, but they seem to like cars, though Letterman is much more known for his involvement with auto racing, as the long-time co-owner of an Indy racing team, than for his personal car collection, which he also has.
Since leaving their broadcast-network gigs, Leno, Seinfeld and Letterman each has launched series on cable television or on streaming services — Jay Leno’s Garage, Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, and Letterman’s My Next Guest Needs No Introduction.
Back in the days when Leno and Letterman were late-night rivals on NBC and CBS, I much preferred to watch Leno, and I don’t recall watching any episodes of Seinfeld until they were in syndication. I very much agreed with the statement, attributed to the Seinfeld character George, that the show was “about nothing.” I think the only episode I found at all truly funny, let alone memorable, was the one in which Kramer hits a golf ball into the blow hole of a whale.
Which brings me to the new series. I’ve written before about Comedians Getting Coffee in Cars (which begins its 11th season on July 19). I’ve enjoy watching Leno’s Garage and the enthusiasm he shows for his cars and his guests.
Speaking of guests, I’ve been privileged to be at Leno’s collection in Burbank, California, on a couple of occasions. I’ve been awed at how much he knows about his cars, seemingly about all cars, the way he gets hands-on with them, the way he has them displayed, and his eagerness to share them with others.
Quick story: I was at Autobooks-Aerobooks in Burbank one Saturday a few years ago doing a book signing. I don’t know if he still does, but at the time Leno stopped by the store nearly every Saturday morning. They’d cone off a parking place for him near the door, he’d do a lap through the store to check out new books he wanted to acquire, and he was happy to show whatever car he’d driven from his collection that day to the store’s customers.
I don’t recall what car he drove that particular Saturday morning, but a young customer expressed disappointment because he was hoping to see one of Jay’s other cars, I think it may have been the Stanley Steamer. Leno asked the boy’s parents if they could be patient for about half an hour — they said yes — and he drove back to the garage, got the car of the young boy’s dreams and drove it back. He even gave the youngster a ride around the block.
Which brings us to Letterman and his guests who need no introduction. Letterman’s is not a show about cars, but during this, the show’s second season, one episode features Lewis Hamilton, the Formula One racing driver, who actually did need introduction to much of the audience.
The interview was filmed in a studio in New York City, and while Hamilton is immediately recognized around the world, he said he rarely drew any attention during such a U.S. visit.
Unlike the late-night shows where celebrity guests appear to promote their next project, No Introduction allows time to get to know the guest. Yes, there is very much of Letterman’s ego as turns the conversation to himself, as he races go-karts with some youngsters, and whoops and hollers as he shares a ride with Hamilton around a British race track.
But through Letterman’s ego Hamilton emerges as an almost bashful yet confident 33-year-old multiple world championship athlete who says he really doesn’t like driving, but loves to race.
“I am ridiculously determined to win,” he says. But he also talks about the emotional highs and especially the mental lows of such competition.
He also tells us about being the child of divorce and being of dark skin and being smallish and bullied, and about being 8 years old when he and his father went looking for something to do together and racing remote-controlled cars, then go-karts and finally discovering, “I was good at something.”
More than just good, as it turns out.
There’s much more to the Lewis Hamilton story to be learned in No Introduction. Trust me. It will be 45 minutes of your well spent.