I don’t think Jay Leno is the funniest comedian ever but he is a survivor and now a legend who took over the reins of The Tonight Show from Johnny Carson 17 years ago today and that in itself earns him a measure of respect.
Another thing he is, is humble. Leno gave an interview to the Toronto Star in which he proved he’s what so many people say he is: one of the nicest guys in showbiz. He tells the story of talking cars with an unnamed film star during a commercial break on his show and the guy wanted Jay’s opinion on what new wheels he should buy. Leno told him the new Ferrari was a good one and the guy replied, “Everyone has a Ferrari”. Jay says he gave the guy heck telling him to never talk like that in front of people because, essentially, he sounded like an elite, pompous ass. “Everyone” does not have a Ferrari.
Leno also says he believes in low self-esteem! He enters a room assuming he’s the dumbest one in it. I LOVE THAT! His own Mother told him he wasn’t terribly good looking or smart so he’d better try harder. No coddling. No “You’re Number 1” trophy for just showing up to play. A shot of hard, cold reality that some may find very harsh but young Jay obviously could take it.
I’ve learned things from interns and I’ve learned from the most experienced in the business, too. If I ever think I know it all and have nothing left to learn or to gain from listening, slap me. Hard.
After Friday, Leno hands the reins of the Tonight Show over to Conan O’Brien. He’ll be back in the fall with a 10 pm show of his own. And he continues to do 160 stand-up dates a year. A person could do a lot worse than to model their worklife attitude after Jay Leno. Personally, I’d take a lot of vacations and spend my money on things besides cars but, hey, that’s just me.