Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

'Tonight Show' Behind Him and Sarasota Ahead

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

'Tonight Show' Behind Him and Sarasota Ahead

Article excerpt

Jay Leno steps off the stage as host of his show and ontol the stage of the Van Wezel

Jay Leno may say that his performance Friday night in Sarasota is just another of the roughly 150 stand-up comedy shows he does each year. But it's also his first gig as the "former" host of NBC's "The Tonight Show," which he has led for most of the last 22 years.

Hours after today's final broadcast, with guests Billy Crystal and Garth Brooks, Leno is flying to Sarasota for his first show at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall since 1988. His sold-out appearance is part of the annual Van Wezel Foundation fund-raising gala.

He should feel right at home in a town filled with retirees -- not that he has any interest in actually retiring at 63, even if he is passing "The Tonight Show" to Jimmy Fallon. Fallon, at age 39, becomes only the sixth permanent host in the show's 60-year history.

And Leno has no plans to scale back his travel schedule. Now that he doesn't have to be at the office five days a week, the comedian who has been dubbed the busiest man in show business will have more time for stand-up gigs and other projects.

"Look, I was in Key Largo on Saturday and Vegas on Sunday," Leno said in a brief phone interview from his Burbank office on Monday, four days before his final broadcast. "I'm on the road every week. It's not like I haven't been on the road for the last 25 years."

Leno leaves "The Tonight Show" at the top of the ratings game, just as it was when he inherited hosting duties from Johnny Carson in 1992 after a contentious battle between Leno and David Letterman. Letterman ultimately bolted for CBS.

Leno doesn't intend to host another late-night show, but is looking at "a lot of offers coming in" and will be doing a lot of club dates.

"It's flattering to be this age and get these offers," he said.

The noted car enthusiast, who has a couple of airplane hangars filled with a classic cars, also will continue to write for Popular Mechanics, the Sunday Times of London, Octane magazine and another car magazine in Australia.

But he said he is looking forward to more stand-up shows, something he's done since he was a student at Emerson College in Boston in the early 1970s.

"When you do 'The Tonight Show' you do different jokes in the same place every night. On the road, you get to do the same jokes in different places every night," he said.

There's a big difference, he said, between his stand-up and the roughly 10-minute monologues he's done on more than 4,600 episodes of "The Tonight Show." (That's nearly 100 more than Carson.)

The monologues are filled with topical jokes that he described as "fairly disposable. And it's free. Jokes people buy a ticket for tend to be a little funnier," he said.

They become part of sets that he molds over weeks, months and years. "You can't make a routine out of topical jokes," he said. …

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