As Jay Leno leaves the stage this week after his final few performances, it marks a new beginning for Jimmy Fallon, who will finally be taking over the Tonight Show. There is great nostalgia during the final moments of Leno’s performance, who hosted the show for a collective 22 years. Guest appearances included Jimmy Fallon himself with comical “thank you notes” scripted for the man handing off the baton. People lined up day and night for their seats to watch him live, for what few believe may be his last airing. The Today Show reported the tickets were the “toughest tickets to get.”
Leno’s biography paints a picture of a man who will continue to work, and work hard. His next venture has still yet to be broadcast, but during a press release he told the listeners, “If you need me, I’ll be in the garage.” This can only be taken as comic relief as he is a car enthusiast, owner of a collection of almost 200 classic automobiles. His history is one that engenders much reflection, as his career is a dynamic one.
Born in New Rochelle, New York and raised in Andover, Massachusetts, Jay obtained a Bachelor’s degree in speech therapy from Emerson College. It was during his college years that he started performing at comedy clubs. The writer for the blog, Power of Dyslexia, reports him as actually having held his own comedy club in 1973. Later, he met his wife at a show in Los Angeles, where he was performing, and married Nov. 30, 1980. He had already made his debut appearance on the Tonight Show in 1977 with host, Johnny Carson.
In 1992, Jay was given an interview by 60 Minutes Overtime CBS News. It was from this interview many people discovered how hard a worker he was. Prior to landing the host position on the Tonight Show, Leno speaks about working 300 days of the year performing on stages and colleges around the country. This work ethic is reflected in a saying he used, “being tired is a rich man’s disease.” Friends say that he never seemed to sleep. Work would drag on from midnight until 4 am some days. During the 60 Minutes interview, young Leno states his usually sleep cycle was only 4 hours long.
The celebrity’s presence wasn’t always as welcome as it is now. Hillary Busis, with Entertainment Weekly, writes on the negative reaction, or “heat,” Leno received when he first took the position as host of the Tonight show. He superseded Conan O’brien, and overtook David Letterman’s “nomination” for the part. The long-standing and highly respected Tonight Show host of 30 years, Carson, was a man whose work was so revered by the public that expectations were tough for a new host to live up to. During his life Carson received numerous awards, including the Peabody, six Emmy awards, the Governor’s Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As renowned as Carson was, much of the public did not want to see anyone else take the throne. Now, as he leaves the Tonight Show, his trek to fame is brought to spectacle.
Busis wrote in the article, ‘Big Jaw’ vs. the World: A history of Jay Leno hate, referring to many things celebrities have said about their peer. For example, Arsenio Hall referred to him as a “punk ass” who should have been taken off the air instead of the “Dennis Miller Show”, but later Hall acknowledged his grudge was personal.
Since taking the job as host in 1992, many shows depicted him in caricatures with an exaggerated chin: “Celebrity Deathmatch-Letterman vs. Leno” and the film “Late Shift: The Movie” written by Bill Carter, premiered on HBO and starred Daniel Roebuck. This was a “dramatization of the rivalry” between candidate successors to the Carson seat.
Growing up was a struggle for Leno, as he was diagnosed with dyslexia. Research from the U.S. National Library of Medicine refers to this disorder as a reading disability where the brain has an insufficient ability to recognize symbols. Part Scottish and part Italian, Jay moved through the entertainment industry despite heavy criticism and a possibly organic disability. People have grown so accustomed to their beloved Tonight Show host, Jay Leno will leave the stage memorable and an audience well-served.
By Lindsey Alexander