Jay Leno (born James Douglas Muir April 28, 1950) is an American comedian of Italian and Scottish extraction who is best known as the current host of the long-running NBC television variety and talk show The Tonight Show. He also owns the production company which co-produces The Tonight Show called Big Dog Productions.
Leno is not widely known as an actor, but has had a number of small roles in mostly unsuccessful movies; an exception was a bit part in the more popular film, American Hot Wax. His most prominent role as a film actor was in the 1989 film Collision Course, a comedy about a mismatched crime fighting pair, in which he played a detective opposite Pat Morita.
Leno started his career as a stand-up comic performing in nightclubs, bars and any place that would give him even five minutes of stage time. He quickly became known for his work ethic and nice demeanor both on- and offstage, as well as for his striking appearance, in particular his large chin. Though he had made the occasional foray onto television in the form of guest appearances on The Tonight Show, then hosted by Johnny Carson, stardom eluded him and he continued to work wherever he was allowed. It has been reported that Leno would sometimes work as many as eight or nine clubs in one evening.
He began making more frequent appearances on television when many of his friends and contemporaries became more influential on late night programs. Leno made a record number of appearances on Late Night with David Letterman. His popularity was noted by NBC executives, who decided to make Leno the permanent guest host for The Tonight Show when Joan Rivers left that position.
Host of Tonight Show
When Carson retired in 1992 Jay Leno became the new permanent host of The Tonight Show after a long period of debate and negotiations with Leno and David Letterman (who had been considered by many to be Carson's heir apparent). Letterman signed a deal with CBS, sparking an ongoing late-night rivalry between the two talk-show hosts. Although Letterman's Late Show led in the ratings at the start, The Tonight Show took over the lead in 1995 and has, on the whole, had higher ratings ever since.
Although known mainly for his wit, he has also shown his sensitive side on air. When The Tonight Show came back after the September 11 attacks, he nixed his usual monologue to talk about what had happened. He also spoke about the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. In addition, following the skating controversy surrounding the ice skating pairs event at the 2002 Winter Olympics, Leno invited the Canadian pairs teams onto his show the following day and waved a Canadian flag and played "O Canada" for them.
In 1998, Jay Leno and his show partner Kevin Eubanks were invited to a wrestling show called WCW Road Wild 1998, from Sturgis, South Dakota, in which Leno teamed with Diamond Dallas Page to wrestle against Hollywood Hogan and WCW President Eric Bischoff, following a prelude in which the wrestling stars had appeared on The Tonight Show. The match ended with Page and Leno's victory when Eubanks snuck a fast Diamond Cutter on Bischoff.
In 2002, Leno had a group of professionals build him a robot called "Chin Killa" for Battlebots. Although the officials from the show let his robot fight in fun matches, they wouldn't allow it to fight in tournaments because it was built by professionals.
On The Tonight Show's 50th anniversary episode (September 27, 2004), he announced that he would retire as host in 2009, when his current contract expires, as part of an arrangement that allowed NBC to have Late Night host Conan O'Brien replace him.
Cameos and voice acting
Leno, who did some acting before becoming the host of the Tonight Show, has since done a number of cameo appearances, usually appearing as talk show host, or making fun of his famous chin. In 1994 he played "Bedrock's Most Wanted Host" in the live-action comedy The Flintstones. Also in 1994, he played himself in Major League II, which starred Charlie Sheen. Making fun of his own facial features, he played the "Crimson Chin" on the TV cartoon series The Fairly Odd Parents. He also makes a brief appearance on an episode of the Fox/Adult Swim animated comedy American Dad while attending the protaganist's boss' birthday celebration as the roast master (and is swiftly incapacitated with a swift neck-snap after making jokes about the protaganist's marital problems.) Most recently he was a talking fire hydrant in the 2005 computer animated movie, Robots. In 2006, he will provide the voice of an armadillo named "Fast Tony" in Ice Age 2: The Meltdown.
In the 2005 trial of Michael Jackson over allegations of child abuse, Leno appeared as a defense witness (many celebrity defense witnesses had been expected, but Leno was one of the few who actually testified). As a witness in the case, Leno was initially not allowed to continue making jokes about Jackson and the case; however, he and his show's writers could still use a stand-in to tell them. After NBC challenged this gag-order, the judge allowed Leno to make jokes, as long as they were not related to Leno's testimony.
In his testimony, the defense expected him to say he called police to say the accuser was coached by his mother to ask for money; Leno testified he never called the police, no money was asked for, and there was no coaching, but the calls seemed unusual and scripted .
In automobile collecting circles, Jay Leno is known as an avid collector and restorer of cars and motorcycles. He has a very large antique car collection on which he is constantly working in his spare time, and routinely drives cars from his collection from his home to his studio. He is also a promoter of the mechanical crafts, through his columns in Popular Mechanics and his educational activities.
In 2001, Leno auctioned off a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. It was signed by his celebrity guests, to help the victims of the September 11 attacks. The bike sold for about $360,000. Early in 2005, Leno auctioned off another Harley-Davidson motorcycle signed by his celebrity guests to help the victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake. The bike sold for $810,000. To help the victims of Hurricane Katrina, Leno auctioned off another Harley-Davidson motorcycle signed by his celebrity guests. The bike sold for $505,100.
He owns and drives a Stanley Steamer to work.