Jay Leno Is Not Retired. He Just Wants You to Think So.

October 19, 2018

Jay Leno GarageThe CNBC host on his love of vintage cars

The Wall Street Journal / By Marc Myers / Oct. 8, 2018 (photographs courtesy of Sam Comen for the Wall Street Journal)

Jay Leno, 68, is an Emmy-winning comedian and former host of “The Tonight Show.” His “Jay Leno’s Garage” on CNBC is in its fourth season and airs on Thursdays. He spoke with Marc Myers.

I’m sure plenty of people out there think I’m retired. Working on cars in my garage and driving them on TV probably doesn’t look like hard work. But that’s fine. The trick in show business has always been to look like you’re retired.

Dean Martin was great at this. He’d stumble from one thing to the next and never seemed to care. The truth, of course, is that he was quite professional. But he proved that jokes are funnier when a comedian doesn’t appear to give them much thought.

Hosting a TV show about cars in my garage was my idea. In 2006, I appeared a few times on a TV show called “My Classic Car with Dennis Gage.”

This gave me an idea to do my own show. One of the cameramen on “The Tonight Show” came over to my garage and taped me, and we put it up on YouTube. It got a ton of views. In 2014, I took the show to CNBC, where we gave it more personality and stories.

Working on cars is great for developing stand-up material. In the garage, I work with my hands. For some reason this lets my mind think freely, so funny things come easier and faster. Since I’m dyslexic, writing down the jokes wouldn’t work for me. I remember everything that gets a reaction. It makes a little notch in my brain.

I’m constantly trying out new material on the guys at the garage. They’re a good audience. The nice thing about laughter is it’s instinctive. You can’t not laugh if something is truly funny.

I never tire of heading off to the garage each day. I’ve always loved restoring cars. You’re bringing works of art to life again. But it’s more than great design. Cars also have to run.

As a comedian, I work in a business where some people think you’re funny and other people think you suck. But when a car is broken and you fix it, no one can deny it’s not running.

Working on cars is the real me. I’ve reached a point in life where I’m not going to apologize for not being an angry, pissed-off comic. I like making people laugh, but I have no urge to host a late-night TV talk show again. We’re in a different era now. Late-night comedy is meaner, and that’s just not who I am. Deep down, I’m a car guy who’s funny.

Read the complete Wall Street Journal article: https://on.wsj.com/2IL4juW

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