Jay Leno in a press photo
Best known for replacing Johnny Carson at the helm of The Tonight Show, Jay Leno is a host, writer, tireless stand-up comic, and owner of the most expensive car collection in the United States.
Both the former-NBC studios and Jay's Garage are located in Burbank, making it convenient for him to be a Friday Night Car Show regular at Bob’s Big Boy Burbank.
Jay Leno at The Improv
Born in New York of Scottish and Italian ancestry, Mom told him because of his dyslexia, “You're going to have to work twice as hard as the other kids to get the same thing.” Jay heeded the advice and as a teenager worked two simultaneous jobs at a Ford dealership and a McDonald’s, making cars and hamburgers early favorites for him.
Comics such as David Brenner, Mort Sahl, Don Rickles, and Rodney Dangerfield influenced Jay Leno.
Leno, in turn, influenced Dennis Miller and Jerry Seinfeld. In an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry went so far to say, “Ya know, Jay, when I met you in the 70's, and I used to come to your house every night (we'd always hang out), you formed my whole professional attitude as a young man, and I always tell people that I learned comedy from Jay.”
Leno’s early stand-up is regarded (even by his detractors) as amazing. There is a Freddie Prinze and Friends (1976) show at Budd Friedman’s The Improv on Melrose and a performance on Dick Clark’s Live Wednesday.
He took some of the same material and bombed in his first appearance (1977) on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The advice he got from Carson: Write your jokes out and read them as flat and as boring as you can and if it gets a laugh, you got a solid joke. Then add performance to it and you’ll have a joke that works on two fronts. Jay considers it the best advice he ever got.
Jay Leno and David Letterman
Both Jay Leno and David Letterman wrote alongside each other for Good Times (1974-79). Jay made many appearances on Late Night with David Letterman, when he was “one of those comedy foot soldiers out there in the trenches” and Dave “an armchair comedy general with a cushy desk job.”
Leno became a regular substitute and guest on The Tonight Show (1986-92) and then, following in the footsteps of Steve Allen, Jack Paar, and Johnny Carson, became the permanent host for the next 20 years (1992-2009, 2010-2014). The show won a Primetime Emmy (1995).
Jay doesn’t deny adjusting his humor for a big audience. “So is it not as cutting edge? Sure, probably. I’d cop to that.” Bill Zehme, co-author of Jay’s autobiography Leading with My Chin, wrote, “Like Bob Hope, Leno seems to fill a nationalistic need as America’s comedian.”
Jay Leno hosting The Tonight Show
One of the more popular segments on the show was called “Headlines.” Viewers would send news clippings containing accidents or absurd juxtapositions that comically change the original intention. Dave would joke that Leno stole the bit from his “Small Town News,” but Conan O’Brien’s “Actual Items” and Jimmy Fallon’s “Screengrabs” have since parodied the bit.
After a tearful goodbye from actress Sandra Bullock, Jay would host his last Tonight Show (2014), reinterviewing his first guest Billy Crystal and at Leno’s request, Garth Brooks performing “The Dance.”
In 2014, Jay was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame and awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor joining Bob’s Big Boy Burbank Hall-of-Famer, Jonathan Winters.
He could have retired, but Jay still does about 210 live comedy shows a year, saying, “That’s the only place you stay sharp.” Jay doesn’t drink, smoke or gamble, and only requires 4-5 hours of sleep/night. On work ethic: “If you have time to complain, you don’t have enough work to do.”
Starting as a web series in 2008, since 2014, Leno has hosted Jay Leno’s Garage on CNBC, winning a Primetime Emmy (2016).
The “Big Dog” Garage
His car collection is ridiculous, containing 288 vehicles (169 cars and 117 motorbikes) in a hangar by the Hollywood Burbank Airport off Clyburn Avenue. It is not open to the public, but you can write him to request a tour at 3160 N. Damon Way, Burbank, CA 91505.
Some highlights include: 1994 McLaren F1, Duesenberg Model X, 1967 Lamborghini Miura, 1955 Mercedes 300SL Gullwing Coupe, and a 1972 Mercedes 600 Kompressor (rumored to be one of his favorites).
Suitable substitutes for car enthusiasts are the Nethercutt Collection (Sylmar), the Peterson Museum (across the street from LACMA), and the Friday Night Car Show at Bob’s Big Boy Burbank.
Jay Leno’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is at 6780 Hollywood Blvd. His publicist stated that Jay selected that location because he was arrested there twice in his 20’s for vagrancy.
Jay Leno with a Chevy