Life, Liberty, and Tennis Balls

Anyone who's been reading this site for more than about five seconds knows two things about me for sure: 1. I hate Jay Leno with the fiery passion of ten thousand suns. 2. I love Matt Damon.

What that means in practical terms is that one of the very few people who could get me to suppress my gag reflex and tune into Leno's gawd-awful show is Matt Damon. Who was on last night.

One of the things you need to know before viewing this clip is that Leno, because he is a bully and an inveterate asshole, makes stars "earn their plug" on his show. (Because, you see, he's so goddamn special that people tune in to see him, and megastars like Damon should just be grateful he allows them into his kingdom.) So this segment is about Damon earning his plug, and I implore you to try to just ignore Leno altogether and focus on the awesomeness that is Matt Damon: History Nerd.

[Transcript below.]
[Matt Damon and Jay Leno sit in two big blue easy chairs, which is the standard staging on Leno's show.]

Leno: Before we get to that, I wanna ask you about this thing you're doing for the History Channel, which—getting kids into history. Tell me about that.

Damon: Yeah, "The People Speak"—it's on on, uh, Sunday night—

Leno: Okay.

Damon: —and it's, uh, it's, it's terrific. We, we, um, it's based on, on—a historian named Howard Zinn, who, uh, I lived next door to as a young boy, wrote a book called "The People's History of the United States," and, eventually, uh, he put out another book, which was just historical documents and, you know, letters and speeches of Americans throughout the course of history, and what we did was, we got a bunch of actors together to read these speeches, everything from Frederick Douglass—Morgan Freeman reads Frederick Douglass—

Leno: Right.

Damon: —and we've got, you know, Josh Brolin and Sean Penn and a bunch of, a bunch of actors, um, reading these things. And the hope is that eventually we'll get them into classrooms, 'cause it's actually really exciting when you hear the words of Americans from kind of across time—David Strathairn reading John Brown, the last thing he said on the record before he was put to death—and it, it's just a really kind of powerful, powerful thing, uh—

Leno: Yeah.

Damon: I, I read the Declaration of Independence on it, which is, which I would say to any—every American should read it at least once a year. [crosstalk] 'Cause we read it as a kid and you don't— [crosstalk]

Leno: It's like squiggly [mimes writing longhand], and you can't follow it.

Damon: [laughs] Right. But it's, it's pretty—it's really moving as an adult to read it.

Leno: Cool. Cool.


Leno: All right [points at camera], he's gonna earn! his! clip!

[Wacky theme music for segment plays over video clips of stars performing tricks, singing, wev to "earn" their plugs. Text: EARN YOUR PLUG. When the show cuts back to Damon and Leno, they are standing on another part of the stage. There is a stand with a bowl of tennis balls between them.]

Damon [holding tennis balls, pointing at still-full bowl]: You gonna do it, too?

Leno: Well, no, no, no—I, you know, I knew that you knew how to juggle, and I think it needs a new element, and I think an element that will help educate young people. So, since you just talked about this moments ago—and I don't mean to spring this on you, 'cause I knew you can juggle, but you didn't know about this part [Damon laughs]—I want you to read the Declaration of Independence as passionately as you can [Damon chuckles] while you juggle, all right?

[Damon grins, shakes his head, and walks to his mark, bouncing one of the three tennis balls he holds.]

Damon: I haven't juggled since I was 10, so this is— [audience laughs] Uh, okay. Ready. [He poises to start, then pauses, and clears his throat. The audience laughs. He points to the bowl of tennis balls behind him.] And I have some extra balls in case I mess up. All right.

Leno: I'll hold them for you.

[He grabs balls out of the bowl. If you, like I did, are thinking: "Ah, Leno's just seen an opportunity to throw balls at Damon the moment he screws up, because Leno is a bully and an inveterate asshole," you'd be right.]

Damon: All right. [He begins juggling three balls.] All right, we gotta get it going. Okay. [The audience cheers.]

Leno: [holding up hands for audience to be quiet] Go ahead.

Damon: All right, now we gotta listen to the words, 'cause the words are good! Let's see, let's just see if I can pull this off. All right. "We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men—"

[A ball starts to fly out of orbit; Damon catches it and keeps juggling; the audience cheers; he gets back on track and then bobbles another; the balls spill.]

Damon: Ahh!

[He turns to Leno to get new balls; Leno throws balls at him, into his face, in a totally unsupportive way. Damon ignores Leno's assholery, and reaches down for the balls, scooping them up and starting to juggle again.]

Damon: Wait, okay okay! [He gets the balls going again.]

Leno: Close enough!

[Leno is trying to get Damon to stop, but he plows on determinedly. As he begins to recite again, Leno starts collecting more balls from the bowl.]

Damon: Okay okay okay! Wait! "—deriving their just powers from consent of the governed; that when any form of government becomes destructive of these ends—" [Damon drops the balls and reaches down for them; the audience gasps and shouts; Leno says, smugly, "Aww." But Damon pops back up with the balls and starts juggling again.] This is the good part! Hold on! [He drops a ball; grabs it; drops it again; grabs it. Aww, man! [The audience laughs; he starts juggling again.] Squirrely little fu—things here. All right. All right. "—it is the right of the People to alter or to abolish it and to institute new government laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form [he's really going now, shouts of encouragement come from the audience] as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety. And. Happiness."

[He tosses the balls in the air; the crowd cheers.]

Leno: Yes! There you go! You have earned your clip, young man.

[Cut to a clip from Damon's new movie Invictus.]

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