tv Jay Leno Mr. Comedy CNN January 31, 2014 7:00pm-7:31pm PST
summer. also the standup dates, go to christucker.com. come again. >> thank you. >> that's all for us tonight. see you back here on monday night with all the fallout of what should be a special day on sunday. jay leno! >> america's late night leader. going out on top. >> thank you. >> the journey. from comedy club kid to the throne of king johnny. >> the young man's name is jay leno. >> the rivalry -- >> i love letterman. he's great. nip hat my heels. make me work harder. >> the triumph. >> what the hell were you thinking? >> and the jay you didn't know. >> probably more sensitive than people would think. >> tonight, the blue collar
guy -- >> that's him. >> who became an entertainment giant. "jay leno: mr. comedy." >> and now, jay leno! >> the man of a thousand monologues is down to his final cue cards. >> katy perry said when she was a young girl she prayed to god to have huge boobs. so atheists, your move. >> jay leno departs "the tonight show" number one, where he's been for years. admired. ♪ i think your jokes are just as funny ♪ >> by comedy cohorts. >> he's been just -- he's done a tremendous job. >> and long-time friends who know another side of him. what is the private jay like? >> probably more sensitive than
people would think. >> if there's somebody in the family suffering bad health, he'll make sure he calls, anything i can do, can i refer you to somebody, just let me know. >> one of the first places i went to -- >> a guy many say hasn't changed a bit on his rise up the comedy ranks. >> get in the picture. >> if he ends up on top, it's a journey that begins pretty much at the bottom. >> who is going to hang out with this guy? >> the first time i met jay was in new york city, and it was 44th street and 9th avenue, where the original improv was. >> bud freeman knows leno from the early '70s. jay, then a student in boston with dreams of breaking into comedy, drives down to new york city, over and over. >> so this young man comes up to
me at the club, and he says, excuse me, mr. friedman, but i've been waiting three nights in a row. i come down here from boston where i go to school to go on, and i never get on. what do i have to do to get on. i said, wait, you drive from boston to new york and drive back then that night? right. i said, you're on next. >> jay's an instant success. >> he did great. he became a regular like that. he was special. >> notice how all news men use the same metaphors? >> the comics that have worked hard and honed their craft, and they're great. >> another senseless killing early today. >> and there are comics that are just born hilarious. and jay was born hilarious. >> who knew? >> 1973.
jay graduates from emerson college and moves to los angeles. he performs anywhere and ultimately he finds a home. once again at bud friedman's improv, on stage in shows like this one. freddie prince and friends. >> always nice to stand here and watch people try to drink $5 worth of nine. you've had nine glasses, bud. how much is that? $1.07. >> oh, sure, it was pretty funny. >> such a tacky club, the improv. thank you very much. >> with the improv on his resume, he gets booked into another prestigious venue, l.a.'s comedy store. >> he had a night, it was jay and robin and pryor and elaine and billy crystal, all in the
same show. it was unbelievable. >> it's 1977. jay's career is booming. then he gets the call. "the tonight show" with johnny carson wants him. >> young man's name is jay leno. this is his first appearance on "the tonight show." >> that performance in front of johnny is life changing. >> i'm originally from the united states. any people from the united states here tonight? >> big screen rolls follow like 1978's "american hot wax." comedy career on track, off stage leno finds love with a brunette named mavis nicholson. >> she's an amazingly bright and wonderful person. >> they marry in 1980, remaining together ever since. with mavis by his side, jay devotes his spare time to his
other passion. cars. >> when you work with your hands, you realize how easy it is to make a living on television. >> jay is a guy, when he was in high school, he was tearing apart cars, seriously tearing apart cars. >> it's fun to restore cars and fix them up. >> he's a world class mechanic. i studied this for years, and it's like i don't know how to turn a wrench. >> my next guest is jay leno. >> by the mid '80s, jay is hitting his stride. >> making movies, doing some tv. >> he was on top. he was probably the top standup touring in the '80s. he was huge. >> he lands his first cable comedy special "jay leno and the american dream," and is a regular guest on "the tonight show." and "late night with david letterman." >> please welcome jay leno. >> it's 1985, and leno and
letterman have no idea how off their paths will cross. >> i bid you a very heartfelt good night. >> next, the king of comedy steps down, and the heir apparent is on his way up. ♪ ♪ ♪ abe! get in! punch it! [ male announcer ] let quicken loans help you save your money with a mortgage that's engineered to amaze. thanks, "g." in fact, they depend on a unique set of nutrients. [ male announcer ] that's why there's ocuvite to help protect your eye health. as you age, your eyes can lose vital nutrients. ocuvite helps replenish key eye nutrients.
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slogan, we've fallen and we can't get up. >> he's ready to take over if carson retires. but so is another guy. >> would you welcome mr. david letterman. [ applause ] >> letterman's got his own show following carson on nbc. then in 1991 comes the inevitable announcement. the king of lay night will abdicate his throne. >> it's coming to an end next year. i've always wanted to be a shepherd. >> carson's bombshell -- >> johnny carson has made it official. >> -- sets off speculation of his successor. will be it letterman or leno? >> jay is sensational, and jay is our permanent guest host. but we have not made that announcement yet as to who the successor to johnny will be. >> secretly, the decision's already been made. >> really quietly, and with
nobody in the business nothing it, they had a meeting, absolutely private meeting, with the nbc hierarchy and jay and his manager, and they guarantied him the show. and it was a huge blowup. >> just how pissed off are you? >> angry at jay leno about this? no. would i like to have the show? oh, sure. >> nbcs a calculated that jay is very hard to work with. >> we have no guests on the show. >> he didn't play ball with them. and jay was very accommodating. so they felt more comfortable with jay. >> jay leno! >> and jay got the show. >> his "the tonight show" debut is may 25 of 1992. the middle of a presidential election campaign. >> all we know for sure is ross perot hasn't said anything, bush
hasn't done anything and clinton hasn't inhaled anything. >> despite a-list guests, execution in the early days is an issue. >> yes, i mean, it was bumpy. he had the absolutely unlovely task of following in johnny carson's footsteps. >> i bid you a very heartfelt good night. >> there's just no way that it was going to be oh, we just move smoothly to jay leno. >> big guns. i'll give you a refund on your ticket. >> i thought he was off his game a little. i thought hi wasn't as confident. one of the things is he was too far from the audience. it felt like he was separated completely from the people. >> i never liked that distance of standing there with the lights in your eyes and hearing laughs, but not seeing the faces. >> with "the tonight show" struggling, nbc toys with replacing leno with letterman. but in the end decides --
>> the host of "the tonight show" will continue to be mr. jay leno. >> what we're celebrating is, i haven't been fired. do you understand that? i already have the job. >> letterman bolts to cbs. >> as i leave nbc -- >> setting up head-to-head competition against jay. >> it will be a much better show. >> leno tells journalists he's cool with it. >> i think it will make late night interesting. come on, this is fun for you guys. >> all i really did is take the summer off. >> dave comes out and it's a sensation, absolute sensation and he crushes jay. crushes him. >> critics gush over letterman, too. >> listen to this. >> but fans are responding to jay, including his signature headlines bit. >> there's always a high rated segment in the shoechlt jay had a great time of it. >> he has a great time with another popular segment, jaywalking. >> this is something we can do, go out and test people's knowledge of things that are in the news, things that they
should know but maybe don't. >> who are those two people? >> from "the love boat." >> from "the love boat?" >> yeah. >> no, no. >> then in the mid '90s, a pivotal moment in jay's battle for ratings supremacy. >> one of the showcase moments for jay leno. >> let me start with question number one. >> when hugh grant came on in 1995, hugh grant had been busted for solicitation. >> everybody was watching, anxious about what was going to happen. >> what the hell were you thinking? >> he delivered the night and i think it disarmed everybody and it felt like, we can be relaxed with this guy, talking to a person that's been busted for being with a prostitute. >> i've never been one to blow my own trumpet, as they say.
>> that hugh grant booking really did start to turn the tide. >> everybody said, jay's good. it was a very crucial thing for him. not just that he had hugh grant but he played it off. >> that night, leno seizes number one and pretty much never looks back. as the years go by, memorable moments keep on coming. one with the future governator. >> this is why he needs to be recalled. >> it rocked everybody, including i think leno. >> this is why i'm going to run for governor of the state of california. [ applause ] >> it's just like one of those great live tv moments that, you know, don't happen all that often. >> jay welcomes the president of the united states, barack obama. >> no sitting president had ever come on a late night show. >> was jay nervous? >> everybody was nervous.
everything was shut down. you know, it was a huge, huge deal. >> let me just say, i think kevin looks good in a suit. >> thank you, sir. >> secure on top, leno doesn't rest on his laurels. >> everyone i've talked about him says nobody outworks jay leno. >> not at all. i've seen that, and he loves the work. >> but in 2004, nbc makes an unusual decision. >> an announcement made earlier today. >> to promise conan o'brien "the tonight show" in 2009. >> they say we're going to extend you for five more years, then give the show to conan. and jay was hurt. >> hurt. >> i'm cleaning out my office today. >> ever the team player, leno goes along. >> but i realize i'm not spending enough time with my cars. but any way, when i took the show over, there was a lot of
>> thank you, everybody. thank you for watching. please give conan as much applause as you've given me. >> behind the scenes, tumultuous. the network doesn't want to lose jay to a competitor. >> because he's number one. >> nbc's solution? give jay a show in primetime to save the network the higher cost in producing scripted dramas and keep leno in the fold. >> it's a sound move, but for jay, it was not sound, because he was doing something weird. it was not something the audience had ever seen before. >> we've been off the air for three months, or as most people in hollywood call that, rehab. >> his show premieres in september of 2009. >> the government giving money for their old cars, i made $5
billion. >> leno is back with his headline humor, but not all of his fans follow him. how bruising was it for jay to have to go to 10:00 p.m.? >> it was kind of bruising for all of us, because we had to figure out what to do just like that. and we thought we were doing a pretty good job at 11:30. >> what do you think was the biggest challenge for him to succeed at 10:00? >> challenge is the word. >> a ratings challenge for the nbc affiliates, too. their 11:00 p.m. news casts start taking hits. >> they were in a panic. so by october, they were ready to remove jay if nbc didn't. >> welcome to "the tonight show" with conan o'brien. >> meanwhile, conan's ratings respect meeting expectations. >> it was a huge transition. they're very different, their
personalities are very different. jay was comfort food, you know what you were going to get. >> lured in way more viewers. so they had lost the number one spot. >> in an effort to stop "the tonight show" viewership dropoff, they wanted to push conan's show to midnight. jay agrees, conan declines. >> then it became these camps. the jay camp, the conan camp. >> it just was a disaster. when that curtain between reality and perception is torn, everybody feels uncomfortable. that's a real problem for a host. >> the uncomfortable situation resolves when nbc pays conan and his staff $45 million to step aside. jay resumes his role as host of "the tonight show" in march of 2010.
one almost automatically? >> no, there was a hangover. and it damaged jay. >> what had happened ran counter to his brand which is i'm not hardball player, but yes, you are. you have to be a hardball player to succeed in that arena. >> jay takes the criticism he receives in stride. >> yeah, you get beat up for a while and you try to get your version of the story out there. you know, all the serious things going on in the world, this looks like fun. oh, rich white people arguing. earthquakes and disease and rich white people arguing. it gets people's minds off things. >> and points out. >> this was a decision nbc made, not a decision i made. you can't just snap your fingers and go, my tv show failed, i want that one. it doesn't work that way. >> leno now sets his sights on reclaiming the late-night ratings lead. in 14 months, he's back on top in the ratings, a position he's
maintained ever since. >> chelsea handler stepped into a bottle of vodka and said, you need this more than i do. >> those that work alongside jay attribute the success of the show to his relatability. >> he's the hardest working guy that i know. he was always gracious, always kind, always had time to sign an autograph. somewhat he shows is that regular guy aspect. >> a regular guy approach that resonates. now nbc is vetting on another good guy to carry "the tonight show" torch. in a comedic duet last spring, leno and jimmy fallon announced there's a new heir apparent. ♪ they think i can move the demo ♪ >> and everyone is on board. >> we're still friends, right?
>> yeah, of course we're still friends. >> teaching this friendly this time around seems key to jay and jimmy. >> jimmy learned a lesson from jay, which is nice guys can finish first. >> and after 22 years and thousands of shows, leno is finishing as number one. what do you think jay's legacy is? >> two words -- a winner. that's jay's legacy. he, against people's expectations, always won. >> if you want to succeed in life, all you have to do is go to jay leno university. the guy can take a punch. he may go down, but he gets right back up. >> as for what jay will be up to next -- >> whatever happens with jay, i want it to be something he enjoys doing. >> porn done by people in thai 70s and 80s. i'm 63 and i can't even keep hosting this show.
i'm going to go to japan and do porn. >> still drawing the laughs. it's a good bet this mr. comedy just may show up at a club near you. tonight, a special edition of "unguarded with rachel nichols." peyton manning's boss knows a thing or two about super bowls. john elway took the broncos to five and won twice. and elway brought manning to denver for a reason. >> we were getting a hall of famer quarterback with a chip on his shoulder. to me, you can't find any better guy than that. >> unreal, joe montana won four super bowls and named mvp three times. unparalleled. emmitt smith won three super bowls and he misses the rush. >> this is physicality. this is like