Departments First Words — 08 February 2019
My day with Jay Leno, and the morning after

By Mark Gauert

City & Shore Magazine

Jay Leno was wearing me out.

I’d watched him work a Saturday morning crowd of fans at the Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance. I’d listened to him talk cars that afternoon with people who really (perhaps certifiably) know cars. I’d seen him glide through elegant cocktail parties that evening before the big charity gala at the Boca Raton Resort & Club. I’d laughed through his monologue that night up on stage. And I’d shook his big, friendly hand round midnight, right after the show.

I thought about all the other people he must have met that day. All the hands he must have shook, cars he must have talked (certifiably) about, elegant cocktail parties he must have visited, jokes he must have delivered, on stage and off.

He hadn’t broken a sweat.

My mother had said if I met him, I should thank him for writing back to her many years ago when he was going through some hard times as the new host of The Tonight Show on NBC. He’d been getting a lot of criticism back then, that maybe he wasn’t up to the standard set by Johnny Carson. She wanted to cheer him up, so she wrote him a letter.

“I wrote that he was just fine, clean and I very much enjoyed him,” my mom said. “I told him to hang in there!”

A few days later, mom got an autographed picture from Jay Leno in the mail.

“Thanks!” he wrote.

So right after shaking his hand that night, I told Jay Leno the story about my mom and thanked him for writing back to her.

“Oh,” he said, “that’s funny!”

And the room began to spin.

Jay Leno just said something I said was funny!?!

I’m sure he was just being nice. But it bears repeating, Jay Leno said something I said was funny!

I floated out of the ballroom, past the dozens more people who’d lined up to shake his hand in the wee hours of the morning – and, for all I know, were just getting going for the night.

Not me. Jay Leno had worn me out.

The next morning, still buzzing that Jay Leno had said he wanted to star in a new TV series with me – or, maybe I’d remembered that part wrong – I went down to the lobby of the Boca Raton Resort & Club for a fresh cup of coffee. (I hate the coffee you get in those little bags in hotel rooms.)

The morning light was just beginning to shine through the windows. There was no one at the check-in desk, nobody else in the lobby …

Except Jay Leno, who came charging through on his way out to some early-Sunday morning event at the Concours d’Elegance.

He didn’t have on a tie yet, but his sports jacket looked pressed and he looked rested. I wondered: How does he do it? Where does he get his energy? (And his perceptiveness that something I said was funny.)

So, five years later, I finally have my answer – in our interview this issue with Jay Leno, who’s returning as the featured entertainer at this year’s Concours, Feb. 22-24. Our writer, Greg Carannante, told him my story about seeing him in the lobby that morning – and that I’d wondered where all his energy comes from.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I just like to work. It’s just what I’ve always done … I remember before we were real comedians, I’d go to the Improv in New York to audition and you’d line up at 6 o’clock to get an 11 o’clock spot. And guys in front of me would go, … ‘I’m not standing in line,’ and they walked. I go, ‘great, I move up!’ I just sort of ran my whole life that way. And it worked. While other people are on vacation, I’ll be working. And to me that’s kind of how you get ahead.”

No doubt, great advice. But I think I can say this to a PRIME audience, who may be in or looking forward to retirement: When it comes to work, I was probably more influenced by Ferris Bueller than Jay Leno.

“Life moves pretty fast,” Ferris said in the 1986 movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

I’d always wondered how Ferris Bueller’s droning economics teacher, played by Ben Stein, would have reacted if he’d said that in his class. Would he have urged him to get his head back in the game? Get back to work? Get to Mr. Rooney’s office?

So, 33 years later, I got my answer last month when Stein came to speak for the Broward College Speaker Series.

“[You must] learn to enjoy and appreciate work,” Stein said. “Work is a gift from on high. It keeps us sane, keeps us on an even keel, gives us a feeling of self-worth. Its power to elevate us and lift us out of despair and depression is endless.

“Work is not something to be avoided,” he said. “It’s something to be embraced and to be thankful for.”

I’m going to take a day off to think about that, and see Jay Leno work again at the Concours d’Elegance.

  • Mark Gauert, mgauert@cityandshore.com.
  • Photo courtesy of the Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance, taken right after Jay Leno said something I’d said was funny.

 

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