Jay Leno readies for new comedy assignment, the interview: NBC fall show awaits him

Jay Leno, America’s top-rated TV host and touring comedian, is switching gears in smallcreen after his long 17-year run on the USA’s favorite late night chat show, “The Tonight Show” on May 29.

Jay Leno’s last guest on “The Tonight Show” will be his replacement host, Conan O’Brien.

Both men hail from the Boston area; Leno born in New York but raised in Massachusetts.

“I’m glad it’s going to be Conan [taking over]. It couldn’t go to a better person,” Leno told reporters including Monsters and Critics in a conference call yesterday. “It’s a peaceful transition of power. There’s no bloodshed here.”

Leno explained to us that he was consulted in the end game bookings. “Well I have a hand in the sense that it’s not my job to put it together. I mean, everybody here knows who I like and who I’m friends with, and who’d be good to have as the last guest. I mean, we all sort of came up with obviously Conan should be, yeah, that’s all a good idea.” 

“Booking the show is not what I do, but people know Governor Schwarzenegger is a friend and he’s always been a great guest. And I’ve known Mel Gibson a long time. ‘Oh yeah, that’s good, who’s available,’ that’s pretty much what it is. I think Tom Cruise is doing a film or something that week so he’s not available. It’s not like we’re having OJ and Kevorkian on, it’s not that kind of show.”

Leno’s final show will air Friday, May 29. O’Brien starts as host of “Tonight” the following Monday.

Leno, 59, also revealed “something really out of the left field” for his last “Tonight Show” before launching his new prime-time chat and comedy show in the fall.

“It’s not my job to put it together, but everyone knows who I like,” Leno told Monsters and Critics in a conference call.

NBC has Jay Leno hosting a new show five nights a week in the 10 p.m. slot normally reserved for drama. Leno was optimistic that the genre switch would be welcomed by people ready for lighter fare and less visceral angst before bedtime.  

Leno said, “The thing is there’s plenty of drama on television. I hear people saying ‘oh Jay Leno is taking work away from dramatic writers.’ But you know something? When you look at FX and USA cable and all the others, ‘The Closer’ and all these other shows, there’s more drama now than there’s ever been. And if people want to go there they can go there.”

Leno elaborated, “What we hopefully will be providing at 10 o’clock is comedy, there’s no laughs at 10 o’clock. Every time I turn on a show at 10 o’clock, ‘okay, we’re taking off the cerebral cortex now’… And all right, that’s fine. But before I go to bed I’d like to see something…to me 10 o’clock is like the new 11:30. I hear more and more people – even young people go ‘I can’t stay up past 11:00. I’ve got to carpool, I got to get up at 6:00, I’ve got to get up at 5:30,’ so that’s what we’re doing.”

Monsters and Critics asked him a few direct questions about his reign on Late night, and some personal ones about his East coast roots, and his “Sophie’s Choice” in picking a favorite out of his automobile collection.

What was the most poignant or funny or surprising interview that you had in your Tonight Show career?

Jay Leno: Okay. The most poignant one was John F. Kennedy Jr. because I talked about how when I was 12 years old it was when Kennedy was assassinated. And I remember sitting in the living room of my parent’s house and watching the funeral on TV. And my mother crying just hysterically.

I remember when they showed little John-John, little John Kennedy in that outfit sort of saluting the casket and what not.

My mother just – and when you’re a kid and your mom is crying it’s just like oh my god, this is like an unnatural thing. And I didn’t know what to do. I was totally lost. I’d look at the TV, I’d look at my mom, you know, and I didn’t know how to fix the situation.

So that being what it is, I had John F. Kennedy on the show, what 40 years later. And I’m in the dressing room and I’m talking to him and it didn’t hit me. And we had a nice talk.

I introduced him on the Tonight Show; it still didn’t hit me. And when he came around the corner and I shook his hand and I looked up in the camera and I looked up in the monitor and I saw me shaking hands with John F. Kennedy. And I immediately flashed to my mother just being hysterical and it was kind of an emotional moment.

I didn’t say – I was bursting into tears but it was really like oh suddenly never in my life did I think I would be able to fix that problem or go full circle with it. I almost wanted to say to my mom, look, he’s right here, he’s fine, it’s okay. But it really – and it caught me off guard for a second. I was like – yeah, sit down, hey, good to see you.

So to me, that was probably one of the more emotional moments for me on the show. I mean obviously the night I talked about my mom and dad passing away, that was an emotional moment too.

But that’s separate, that’s an emotional one for everybody so I don’ want to capitalize on that or make it look like I’m – but that certainly with the exception of my parents and talking about that the night they passed away, the John F. Kennedy Jr. was probably the most emotional moment for me.

Monsters and Critics received numerous emails from people from the greater Boston area that want to know what guilty pleasure food from Massachusetts or favorite area restaurant you might miss?

Jay Leno: What was – it was Buzzy’s Roast Beef, that was a big one when I was a kid when we were in Boston. It was right near the Charles Street prison and you’d buy three Buzzy Roast Beef sandwiches; you’d eat two and then you’d throw one over the wall to the prisoners and you hear ‘hey!!’  It was right near the Charles Street jail and you’d always buy an extra roast beef and throw it over the wall and they would eat them.

Are you kidding or did you really do that?

Jay Leno: (laughing) No we’d do that. Yeah, we always did that.

Bostons landmark restaurant Buzzys, Courtesy of robertandchristina.com

Boston’s landmark restaurant Buzzy’s, Courtesy of robertandchristina.com

Everyone’s dying to know this ‘What If’ question; if you were stranded on an island you could only take one of your famous vehicles with you – which one – Sophie’s Choice – which one would it be?

Jay Leno: Well obviously if you’re stranded on an island you’re probably not going to do a lot of driving.

Photo released by DIY Network, comedian Jay Leno poses behind the wheel of his Duesenberg, The automobile is part of Lenos collection that will be featured on DIY Networks Celebrity Rides series.

Photo released by DIY Network, comedian Jay Leno poses behind the wheel of his Duesenberg, The automobile is part of Leno’s collection that will be featured on DIY Network’s “Celebrity Rides” series.

Okay, an island with some streets.

Jay Leno: Oh I see, I see, an island – you mean like maybe a continent, is that what you’re saying? Maybe a continent would be better.

Yeah.

Jay Leno: Yeah, probably my Duesenberg – my 1932 Duesenberg SJ, that would be the best one I’d take.

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