He spent 17 years as the host of “The Tonight Show,” and if you watched the show, Jay Leno said, you pretty much know the real Jay Leno.
“I think people do,” he said in a phone interview from his Los Angeles home. “When you’re on that TV show every night, your personality opens up.”
But when he comes to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota, fans may notice a slightly different kind of stand-up comedy than they’re used to.
“The ‘Tonight Show’ monologue is kind of like a newspaper,” he said. “You go through the jokes in one night and you’re done with them. The next night you’re on to different jokes. On the road, you can tell a joke one night and if it works, you add to it the next night and you can develop it. A week later, you’ve turned it into a one-minute bit.”
Leno’s show is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday. Country singer Emily West, a finalist on season 9 of “America’s Got Talent,” opens. The Van Wezel website has indicated that the show is sold out, but often tickets are released shortly before the event date, so it’s worth checking the website or calling the box office to see if tickets are available.
Leno’s show is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday. Country singer Emily West, a finalist on season 9 of “America’s Got Talent,” opens. The Van Wezel website has indicated that the show is sold out, but often tickets are released shortly before the event date.
Leno started regularly guest-hosting the “Tonight Show” in 1987, and succeeded Johnny Carson as the permanent host in 1992. He’s still doing the same kind of comedy, he said, but the kinds of subjects he talks about have had to change over the years.
“Comedy doesn’t really change,” he said. “I could show you an old silent movie, with Rudolph Valentino or whoever, and you’d think it was slow and exaggerated. But if I show you a comedy from that same time, whether it’s Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin or any of those guys, it’s still going to make you laugh.”
But making jokes about pop-culture topics has gotten trickier.
“I grew up at a time where everyone watched the same TV shows,” he said. “When Walter Cronkite said that the Vietnam War was unwinnable, that was it, because he was the authority on what was going on in the country. Now you have this multiplicity of channels. I’ve introduced bands on the show that had platinum records and I’ve never heard of them. I go to award shows and there are people who are getting awards and I’ve never even heard of their shows, because they’re on the Popcorn Network. So it’s harder to make jokes about celebrities. And you can’t make jokes about commercials because there aren’t commercials that everyone sees every day.”
I’m a huge believer in low self-esteem. I enjoy going to my garage and working with my hands because I feel guilty about how easy it is to make money in show business.
Leno’s been called the hardest-working man in show business — although he’s not the only one who’s been called that — and he still tours the country with his stand-up comedy, and hosts “Jay Leno’s Garage,” his TV series that revolves around his love of classic cars. When he’s not on the road, he spends a lot of time tinkering with his own car collection. He credits his parents for instilling a strong work ethic and a vigilance against letting his ego get out of hand.
His mother, he said, made fun of him when his show was initially called “The Tonight Show Starring Jay Leno.” He quickly changed it to “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.”
“I’m a huge believer in low self-esteem,” he said. “I enjoy going to my garage and working with my hands, because I feel guilty about how easy it is to make money in show business.”