Kevin Eubanks says good-bye to 'The Tonight Show'

kevin_eubanksImage Credit: Paul Drinkwater/NBCKevin Eubanks began his final night on The Tonight Show pretty much like any other in his 18 years as Jay Leno’s sideman: Sitting back in his chair, strumming his electric guitar, a placid smile plastered on his face. After Leno played one of his trademark putting-my-face-on-someone-else’s-body jokes — this time as a rowdy fan at a recent Lakers game — Eubanks even managed to play along with the gag, however halfheartedly: “Wow, man,” he mumbled to the host, “I didn’t know you were into basketball. That’s wild.” And when Leno finally mentioned it was Eubanks’ last show, he did it to set up another joke about Venus Williams flashing the crowd at the French Open. “Kev is leaving to pursue his true passion,” smirked Leno, “following the Williams sisters on the tennis tour.” (For the record, Leno did later note that Eubanks is actually leaving to pursue a music career and help Los Angeles high school students participate in music programs.)

It was that kind of night for pretty much the entire hour: Leno and the show undercutting Eubanks’ departure with feeble cracks at the exiting band leader’s expense. The farewell montage of highlights from Eubanks’ time with Leno included Eubanks accidentally remarking that he had a tiny manhood, Eubanks eating a corn dog licked by Lakers player Rick Fox after he lost a bet with Leno, Eubanks flubbing a simple joke about the U.S. economy (the punchline involved “happy endings”), and Eubanks remarking, “I’ve masturbated in a lot of places, but not in a tree, man.” (I’d explain that last remark if it made any difference at all.) And what was the big finish to this warm-hearted remembrance? Leno and Eubanks “singing” and “dancing” in an ‘N Sync “Bye Bye Bye” parody. Har!

Stranger still, after the show came back from commercial, Eubanks was nowhere to be seen. The cameras never cut to him, even when guest Colin Farrell cracked a tree masturbation joke himself. When the show came in or out of commercial breaks, we got shots of Eubanks’ bandmates, but not of Eubanks himself. It was remarkably odd enough to make me wonder whether Eubanks had simply left the studio.

Then, in the last segment of the night, Eubanks finally got a moment of genuine feeling and recognition. Instead of a musical guest, Eubanks took to the stage to play an original instrumental song called “Adoration.” Leno introduced him as “an incredible musician and one of the best damn guitar players you’ll ever find,” and then Eubanks just sat and played his soft, melancholic song on his acoustic guitar, surrounded by signs of tribute from the Tonight Show staff to him, and his name “Kev” in lights behind him. “Couldn’t have done it without you,” read Leno’s message, replete with his (literally) trademarked self-portrait doodle. After Eubanks finished, the Tonight Show host walked over, and the two shared what has to be one of the more awkward hugs between two grown men I’ve ever seen.

Did you catch Eubanks’ final night on The Tonight Show, P-Dubs? Should he have gotten a better send off, or was it in keeping with how Leno generally runs his show? And will you miss Eubanks’ brand of genial camaraderie?

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  • Dawn

    I generally find Leno a little forced and awkward but Kevin’s final performance was subtle and lovely. And then I got distracted by his forced and awkward hug with Leno.

    • Sally in Chicago

      I never got Leno and why he’s the leading talk show host; maybe it’s the time schedule? But he’s really lame with the jokes. Johnny Carson, on his worse nights, was funny and made fun of himself…and when he was close to retirement he was still as interesting to watch as ever….but Leno, I don’t know, he just doesn’t do it for me. I’d rather watch Kimmel, even Fallon and Letterman than Leno.

      • Jules

        People like you crack me up. You obviously don’t like Jay Leno but you supposeably know his show and know Kevin….? Hhhmmm…have you been watching him?? Seriously…!! Jay Leno is back and #1 again!! Maybe you should talk somewhere else since you have no idea what you are talking about! Leno #1…you lose!!

      • jess obrien

        you must be old

      • jess obrien

        no, i mean you must be old!

      • Rob

        Spoken like a true libtard…

  • sally

    You know, we get it, you hate Jay Leno. Considering more people still watch him compared to the other late night hosts no matter how much you slam him, means more Americans like him better. It was a funny and great send off for Kevin. Certainly more then Idol gave to Ricky Minor which was Zero.

  • Erin

    I think Jay will miss him the most. No one kissed Jay’s butt more or faked liking him better than Eubanks.

    • Cris

      Agreed. It’s going to be hard to find someone out there who will be able to convincingly fake a laugh after all of Leno’s “jokes”

      • RJ

        You two have got to be kidding me. I have seen homemade (out takes) videos Kevin in Jay’s garage. You can teel those two are genuinely good buds. Kevin is the best sidekick musician (Jimmy fallon’s “The Roots” is a close second) of any of the late night bands. His laugh will truely be missed even if it ended with the awkward dude hug.

        Thanks Kevin for putting a smile on my face these last 18 years. Leno’s show just went down hill a little more.

    • Kermonk

      Yeah, Kevin will be greatly missed.

  • kathiee

    Jay Leno is a dweeb and I’m embarrassed for Kevin. He is a great musician and will be so much better without that unfunny Leno and his classless send-off. Kevin will go off to do great things and Leno hopefully will be off the air soon

    • Jake

      Im thinking Kev would disagree with you, as the two of them are very good friends. I hope Kev has an amazing musical career and will be able to enjoy Leno for YEARS to come.

      • Jack

        Kevin was one of the main reasons I watched Leno. He will be missed.

    • Suzanne

      Do you remember how Jay Leno went off the air the last time he was on the TONIGHT Show the first time – very low key. That appears to be his style. I am so glad Leno is back on the TONIGHT Show. His brand of comedy has been proven. I used to watch all 3 of the shows when Conen came on in the second slot. And then I watched Fallon. And then ____ who was improving rapidly. (Boy, has the network ruined HIS show with all the zig-zaggy-color-B&W photography, etc. But I regress. I don’t enjoy ANY of the other late nighters on other networks. I would flip to C-span rather than watch one of their shows. I miss Kevin Eubanks and wish him good luck. Long live Jay and the TONIGHT show!

  • Al

    Criticize Leno for being unfunny if you like but I completely disagree with you about the tenor of last night’s show. It was obvious that Leno’s tribute was heartfelt.

  • lindsey

    I always liked Kevin Eubanks general laid back stoner attitude towards Jay Leno and thought that they worked as well together as any other late night talk show hosts and their bandleaders. These constant attempts by EW to make Jay Leno out to be the bad guy are pathetic. Would David Lettermen and his relationship with his bandleader guy be any better if he were the one leaving? I doubt it very much. So what’s the point of posting this article like it is some big kind of deal that Leno and Eubanks have an awkward kind of relationship? I would be shocked if they didn’t just like I would be shocked if Lettermen had Paul over for dinner every Sunday. And it’s not that I love Jay Leno or anything like that but this constant ragging on him has gotten old really fast. It’s business and that’s all it is for all these late night guys. Get over it EW. Please.

  • sam

    It was a perfectly fine send-off and I believe that Jay showed his honest affection for Kevin. Hugs of this type are always awkward. Why can’t you leave Jay alone? I usually watch Leno, but watched this shoe to see Kevin. Leno is not going anywhere–he is number one and Kevin got a lot of exposure being on this show for so many years. I wish him well.

    • The Vicster

      you watched a shoe to see Kevin? wow, no wonder why Leno fans are always so dense.

      • Jetouellet

        I’m a fan of Conan, but holy crap, typos like that happen to me all the time. Are we just looking for anything to sling at each other now?

      • bill woo


    • merle Balke

      I totally agree with you. I have to wonder if Vary watched a different show then I did. The montage was hilarious.

  • sam

    I meant to say that I don’t usually watch Leno.

  • Taylor2010

    Boy oh boy, the Team CoCo sore losers never miss an opportunity to display their lack of class. With Jay back at the helm, The Tonight Show is back in first place beating the worldwide pants off Letterman. We wish Kevin Eubanks the best. Oh and by the way Team CoCo, someone who hates their boss doesn’t wait around for 18 years to quit.

  • Jimmy

    I liked Kevin on the show…can’t imagine how the new guy will be….Kevin seemed like a class act!

  • LOL

    Kev’s song was cool and the backdrop was nice, but that “hug” was strange. Jay just needs to retire. Kevin got away just in time. This ship is sinking.

  • sam

    Actually, although I personally prefer Letterman, Leno’s show is actually increasing its lead, even with viewers 18-49. It would appear that NBC got exactly what it wanted.

    • PHD

      not true.

      Jay’s 12th week apparently lagged Conan’s.

      AND David Letterman’s “Late Show” is now doing a lot better against Jay than he was against Conan.

      • sam

        You are only talking about a “trend” for the 12th week in 18-49 viewers. This means nothing, really, as Letterman was actually beating Conan in overall viewers and now he is very behind Leno (he was even beaten by Nightline recently). As everybody expected a huge number of viewers in that category to leave NBC and switch to Letterman when Leno came back, it is a victory for him to be beating Letterman in the category at all. Last week was the first week that this “trend” was observed and it isn’t by much. It is wishful thinking for Conan fans to think that Leno’s ship is sinking because of a one week trend. He is number one in every category and unfortunately Dave is the one who seems to be floundering.

      • Ken Nambu

        The Late Show is now doing a lot better against Jay than against Conan? Letterman was BEATING Conan. Leno beats Letterman every night. What are you talking about?

  • PHD

    happy to see the Kevin go on to better things and Leno has the same (and lower) ratings then Coco.

    • LOL

      “than” Coco

  • jeff

    Now, if only Jay Leno would leave then Tonight Show for real this time.

  • sam

    There was a tiny difference in 18-49 viewers between when Conan was host for his twelfth week and when Leno has hosted his twelfth week. This could have been a difference in guests or the fact that Letterman may have been in reruns when Conan was host. And you have to mention that Leno’s numbers in the 18-49 group were well above or even with Conan’s numbers for all other weeks of the show.

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