As I predicted, Jay Leno’s return to hosting The Tonight Show resulted in big ratings, soundly beating David Letterman with his Monday debut (re-debut?). Leno’s first guest last night was Sarah Palin. Jay gave her a chance to explain what he called her “writing on the palm thing.” She referred to it as “the poor boy’s version of the teleprompter” and said she was going to “keep doin’ it.”

Palin met with an enthusiastic response from The Tonight Show audience, which clapped vigorously after almost every one of her comments. Of her new role on Fox News, she said, “I studied journalism… I want to build some trust back in our media.” She decried “the opinion built into the hard-news stories.”

Leno asked her about the Tea Party movement. She described it as “a beautiful thing… an uprising of the people… [with] common-sense solutions.” The host asked whether she thought, should the Tea Party become a third political party, it would attract more Republicans than Democrats. Palin conceded that it “would draw more from the Republican base.”

It was, in the lurching, loopy ways of both talkers, a revealing interview.

After Palin told Leno that her dream used to be to become a sportscaster, “to work with Howard Cosell” (man, would I love to have seen the late, great Cosell trade remarks with Palin in a sports booth), he invited her to do a little stand-up comedy. I guess the idea was just to have some silly fun. There’s no point in saying her gags were bad (“I’m glad I didn’t become vice president — I wouldn’t know what to do with all that free time”) when doing corny jokes was the whole point.

As for the other guests, Shaun White was charming and funny. And Adam Lambert, glammed to near-blindness around his sequined eyes, was fabulous.

Meanwhile, over on The Late Show, Mitt Romney told Dave he thinks Palin is “terrific.” Listen to the audience groan:

And that’s one big difference between the Leno and Letterman audiences… and maybe one reason Leno pulls the bigger ratings?

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