Flashback: Leno Before He Was 'Tonight' Host


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.

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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."

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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."

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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.