We Got Leno!

We Got Leno!

Comic talks family, optimism ahead of stand-up show


People know Jay Leno more now as “the car guy” than “the guy who used to be on ‘The Tonight Show’,” he says. But he’s always been a comedian. Since ending his tenure as host of “The Tonight Show” in 2014, Leno has more time to spend traveling for his stand-up comedy shows and to devote to his passion for all things automotive. In fact, he has made several stand-up appearances on his old show, now hosted by Jimmy Fallon, including most recently on March 13, the day before his chat with What’s Up!

“What I do is probably what you saw on Fallon,” Leno explains of his stand-up, coming to the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville for the first time for a sold-out show March 30. “When I was doing ‘The Tonight Show,’ the monologue was a series of a one-liners, one right after another. And a lot of the jokes are so dispensable in the sense that they only pertain to what happened in a two- or three-day span. The fun part about being on the road is you can try something Monday, tweak it a little bit on Tuesday, try it a different way on Wednesday. By the time the weekend comes, it may be longer, better. It’s always evolving.”

Ninety minutes solo on stage versus the 12 to 14 he had for the monologue during his late night days gives Leno more space to open up and talk about things like family and relationships in his comedy. “Tonight Show” fans will remember Leno’s impressions of his Scottish mother and stories about his Italian father, who passed away during the first and second years of his hosting reign, respectively. Hearing the affable comedian do the imitation over the phone is just as delightful as watching him do it for the studio audience for two decades.

“I had great parents, very funny people, and it just made for a very funny time. The Scots would complain about the Italians; the Italians would complain about the Scots. ‘The Italians, Jay, they waste food. They cook more food than you could possibly eat, Jay. It’s a terrible thing,’” he says with a laugh, and a Scottish lilt, of his mother’s food opinions. “And then the Italians would say, ‘Don’t eat that Scotch crap; those stale biscuits, they’re awful. Come have a meatball.’ It was all good-natured, of course, but it just sort of made you laugh watching grownups vie for your attention.”

Nowadays Leno’s attention is mostly divided among his stand-up, some acting here and there, participating in benefits and charity events, and his show “Jay Leno’s Garage” — and, by extension, working on his own collection of classic cars and motorcycles.

Two versions of the show exist, Leno explains. The YouTube channel is where the Emmy-winning show started. The oldest video was posted six years ago, but Leno explains he started filming the earliest incarnation of the show for motor-lovers some 13 years ago. The YouTube channel is more technical compared to the CNBC show, which aired its fourth season last year and focuses more on the celebrities who join Leno on the road.

“I love doing it. It’s my hobby and I thought, let’s film some of this stuff,” Leno enthuses. “It’s something I do for fun, but it kind of gives me an identity. It helps to be somewhat relevant, talking about things that are going on now, not, ‘Oh, I remember when I did “The Tonight Show”,’ because you don’t want to be that guy.

“I like to work with my hands,” he says, turning to his own cars. “It makes you appreciate, not how easy it is to make money in show business, but certainly easier. I’m one of those, when the head and the hands work together, that’s when everything operates properly.

“In the daytime, I work with my hands; I like to work on the cars. And then I go out at night and work with my mind and come up with funny things. It’s a nice balance. It puts things in perspective, because if you live in Hollywood or Beverly Hills, you get a rather distorted view of things. And when you take a transmission out and put it back in, you go, ‘Oh, that was hard. Some guy would make just 80 bucks for doing that.’ And then you realize, it keeps you from getting a big head.”

That perspective, Leno admits, helps him get through a normal day, too. In a time when “every story is breaking news, whether it is or it isn’t,” the doom and gloom of the world can be pretty depressing when one is always plugged into every single thing going on. It’s both good and bad, Leno says of having unfiltered news. But, in spite of it all, he remains optimistic.

“The world operates because most people do the right thing. The number of people who stop to help other people, do charity work, who spend their day helping people all day long, it’s really quite inspiring,” Leno shares. “There are good things happening. I mean, when I moved to Los Angeles, there was 160 days a year they told you not to go outside because it was smoggy and it would be bad for your lungs. They don’t have that any more.

“People don’t want to read good news; it’s just human nature,” Leno muses. “And you can either accept humans for the way they are and laugh with it, or you can get depressed and bummed out. So to me, it’s more fun to laugh with it, roll with it, and see what happens.”



Jay Leno

WHEN — 8 p.m. March 30

WHERE — Walton Arts Center, Fayetteville

COST — Sold out

INFO — 443-5600, waltonartscenter.org

Categories: In The News