Flashback: Leno Before He Was 'Tonight' Host
By ROBERT PACE
March 05, 2013
As rumors continue to churn of an end to Jay Leno's stint as NBC's late-night talk show host, let's take a trip back to his life to before he began tenure as host of The Tonight Show.
On this day in 1987, Leno was still in his stand-up comedy days and was touring the country for gigs. The then-36-year-old comedian has also recently landed himself a job as substitute host on The Tonight Show for Johnny Carson, which was the basis for his interview with Entertainment Tonight.
In the sit-down, Leno discusses the early stages of his career, sharing both glamorous and unflattering aspects of working his way up the ranks as a comedian. Being in showbiz was a blast for him, but he recalls stories of having cigarette butts thrown at him and a ketchup bottle broken over his head.
After a decade of comedy and minor television and film roles, Leno had become one of the most popular comedians of his time. His versatility as a comedian, Leno explains, is a result of his broad range of audiences in his early career.
"I've always been more or less a journeyman comedian," he says after cracking a joke. "I didn't start out in TV or film. I started out doing this. As you come up through the ranks...you try to find things that make each individual group laugh. ...You try to change [the show] to suit the audience that you're working with."
When asked about his aspirations for the future, Leno reveals no major goal for the future. Instead, he holds true to a theory that success will follow if he keeps his material fresh.
"No, I don't actually," Leno replies when asked if he has a plan for the future. "My thing has always been: If you keep coming up with new jokes and new material, the future pretty much takes care of itself. That's why going on the road, I think, is important because it keeps you from getting isolated."
Five years later, after intermittently filling in for Carson, the future took care of itself and Leno was hired as Tonight Show host in 1992.
Despite a brief hiatus from The Tonight Show in 2009, when Conan O'Brien took the reins for a year, Leno has been host of NBC's late-night show for twenty years now.