Maybe the introduction didn’t transfer so well from Johnny Carson to Jay Leno when the former took over hosting duties of “The Tonight Show” in 1992, but otherwise he has followed the legendary Carson just fine. On Saturday night, Leno will take over the Peppermill’s Tuscany Events Center for two stand-up comedy shows.
Unlike his predecessor, who hosted America’s most popular late-night comedy/talk show for 30 years, Leno is scheduled to leave the desk in May after 17 years. Conan O’Brien is set to take over when Leno gets his own prime time show this fall.
“We will probably lose the couch and the desk and just do more things. We’ll still have celebrities. There will still be a monologue, the stuff that works, headlines, and Jaywalking,” Leno said of his new show in a Boston Globe article.
Leno was a regular substitute for Carson for five years before he took over, having acted and done comedy since the late 1970s, when he was the warm-up act for Johnny Mathis, Tom Jones and John Denver. According to his biography on the New York Times Web site, Leno was performing stand-up comedy 300 nights a year as he worked to establish his career. His first appearance on “The Tonight Show” was as a guest in 1977 and Leno even appeared many times on the late-night show of his future rival, David Letterman, with whom Leno would later have a well-publicized competition to take over from Carson upon his retirement.
Leno not only won the job, but his ratings eventually left Letterman in the dust in the late-night talk show wars. His comedic style has been characterized as “observational,” which puts an academic spin on the jokes that spew forth from Leno’s distinctively large jaw. One of his most memorable sketches is when he goes “Jaywalking,” asking general knowledge questions to people on the street, letting them show their ignorance for the audience’s amusement. The most idiotic Jaywalkers even get invited back to the studio for a mock game show called “Battle of the Jaywalk All-Stars.”
This week, for example, Leno went around asking random folks what they know about Easter. Tanya, an art student, said it was the female bunnies that lay Easter eggs — before Leno reminded her that bunnies don’t lay eggs. When Leno got onto the topic of Easter history, he asked Tanya how long ago Jesus lived. Her guess: 30,000 years. Jesus didn’t know cavemen, Tanya said, but she did know that cavemen work for Geico insurance.
Speaking of history, here is what can be pieced together on James Douglar Muir “Jay” Leno from Internet research:
Born April 28, 1950, in New Rochelle, NY, to parents Angelo and Cathryn. Leno’s high school counselor urged him to drop out of school because of poor grades, but he ended up getting a bachelor’s degree in speech therapy from Emerson College. He married philanthropist and activist Mavis Nicholson in 1980.
In 2005, Leno testified as a defense witness in Michael Jackson’s child molestation trial and in 2007 he told CNN that he is dyslexic. In addition to his comedy, Leno is known for his antique automobile collection, which is detailed extensively at www.jaylenosgarage.com.
Clips of Leno’s comedy can be found all over the Internet, and recent highlights and full episodes of “The Tonight Show” are available at www.nbc.com.
Leno will perform at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets range from $55 to $90 and can be purchased by calling (800) 648-69923 or online at www.peppermillreno.com