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James Douglas Muir "Jay" Leno (born April 28, 1950) is an American stand-up comedian and television host. From 1992 to 2009, Leno was the host of NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. During his tenure, the show held the top ratings position in its time slot on nearly every weekday. Beginning in September 2009, Leno started a primetime talk show, titled The Jay Leno Show, which airs weeknights at 10:00 p.m. (Eastern Time, UTC-5), also on NBC.

Early life

Jay Leno was born in New Rochelle, New Yorkmarker, on April 28, 1950. His mother, Catherine (née Muir), a homemaker, was born in Greenockmarker, Scotland, and came to the United States at age 11. Her schooling was limited and as a result she prized her children's successes. Leno's father, Angelo, who worked as an insurance salesman, was born in New York to immigrants from Flumerimarker, Italy. Leno grew up in Andover, Massachusettsmarker, and although his high school guidance counselor recommended that he drop out of school, he later obtained a Bachelor's degree in speech therapy from Emerson Collegemarker, where he started a comedy club in 1973. Leno's siblings include his late older brother, Patrick, who was a Vietnam veteran and a lawyer. He was raised as a Catholic.

In the late 1970s, he was the warm-up act for Johnny Mathis, Tom Jones, and John Denver.


Leno in 1993, shortly after becoming host of The Tonight Show

The Tonight Show

He replaced Johnny Carson as host of The Tonight Show in 1992, after having been a regular substitute host for Carson since 1987. Leno continued to perform as a stand-up comedian throughout his tenure on The Tonight Show.

In 2004, Leno signed a contract extension with NBC which would keep him as host of The Tonight Show until 2009. Later in 2004, Conan O'Brien signed a contract with NBC under which O'Brien would become the host of The Tonight Show in 2009, replacing Leno at that time.

During the 2007-2008 WGA Writers strike, Leno was accused of violating WGA guidelines by writing his own monologue for The Tonight Show. While NBC and Leno claim there were private meetings with the WGA where there was a secret agreement allowing this, the WGA denied such a meeting. Leno answered questions in front of the Writers Guild of America, West trial committee in February 2009 and June 2009, and when the WGAW published its list of strike-breakers on August 11, 2009, Leno was not on the list.

Leno said in 2008 that he was saving all of his income from The Tonight Show and living solely off his income from stand-up comedy.

On April 23, 2009, Leno checked himself into a hospital with an undisclosed illness. He was released the following day and returned to work on Monday, April 27. The two subsequently cancelled Tonight Show episodes for April 23 and April 24 were Leno's first in 17 years as host. Initially, the illness that caused the absence was not disclosed, but later Leno told People magazine that the ailment was exhaustion.

Michael Jackson trial

In the 2005 trial of Michael Jackson over allegations of child molestation, Leno appeared as a defense witness (many celebrity defense witnesses had been expected, but Leno was one of the few whose testimony was actually needed). In his testimony regarding a call by the accuser, Leno testified he never called the police, no money was asked for, and there was no coaching - but that the calls seemed unusual and scripted.

As a result, Leno was initially not allowed to continue telling jokes about Jackson or the case, which had been a fixture of The Tonight Show's opening monologue in particular. But he and his show's writers used a legal loophole by having Leno briefly step aside while stand-in comedians took the stage and told jokes about the trial. Stand-ins included Roseanne Barr, Drew Carey, Brad Garrett, and Dennis Miller among others.

After NBC challenged the gag order, the judge permitted Leno to make jokes, as long as they were not related to his testimony. After the gag order was lifted, the next show featured a monologue entirely of Michael Jackson jokes.

Succession by Conan O'Brien

Because Leno's show continued to lead all late-night programming in the Nielsen ratings, the pending expiration of Leno's contract led to speculation about whether he would become a late-night host for another network after his commitment to NBC expired. Leno's last Tonight Show was on Friday May 29, 2009.

The Jay Leno Show

On December 8, 2008, it was reported that Leno would remain on NBC and move to a new hour-long show at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. central time) five nights a week. This show is a similar format to The Tonight Show, tapes at the same lot, and retains many of Leno's most popular bits. Late Night host Conan O'Brien was his successor on The Tonight Show itself.

Jay Leno's new show, titled The Jay Leno Show, debuted on September 14, 2009. It was announced at the Television Critics Association summer press tour that it will feature one or two celebrities, the occasional musical guest, and keep the popular "Headlines" and "Jaywalking" segments, which will now air near the end of the show. It will also include a new segment called the "Green Car Challenge" in which celebrities will race around a track for the title of the fastest green celebrity. First guests included Jerry Seinfeld, Oprah Winfrey (via satellite), and a short sit-down with Kanye West discussing his controversy at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.

Personal life

Leno is known for his prominent jaw, which has been described as mandibular prognathism. He has stated that he is aware of surgery that could reset his mandible, but does not wish to endure a prolonged healing period with his jaws wired shut.

Leno is dyslexic. He has been married since 1980 to Mavis Leno; they have no children.


Along with his wife, he donated $100,000 in 2001 to the Feminist Majority's campaign to stop gender apartheid in Afghanistanmarker, to educate the public regarding the plight of women in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. Mavis Leno is on the board of the Feminist Majority.

In 2001, he auctioned off a Harley-Davidson motorcycle signed by his celebrity guests in an effort to help victims of the September 11 attacks. The bike sold for about $360,000. In 2005, he repeated the gesture twice: first, to aid victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquakemarker, with a bike sold for $810,000, and then again to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina; that bike sold for $1,550,100.

In 2009, he donated $100,000 to a scholarship fund at Salem State Collegemarker in honor of Lennie Sogoloff. Mr. Sogoloff gave Leno his start at his jazz club, Lennie's-on-the-Turnpike.

Vehicle collection

Leno is widely known as a car and motorcycle aficionado. He has a large antique car and motorcycle collection of various international marques spanning from the early 1900s to modern vehicles.

Leno's column in the American magazine Popular Mechanics showcases his car collection and gives advice about various automotive topics, including restoration and unique models, such as his jet-powered motorcycle and solar-powered hybrid. Leno also writes occasional "Motormouth" articles for The Sunday Times (London), reviewing high end sports cars and giving his humorous take on automotive matters. He also writes a monthly column for Octane Magazine.

The collection also includes several Duesenbergs, eight steam-powered cars including an original 1912 Stanley Steamer (which, with Leno behind the wheel, became the oldest car to ever receive a speeding ticket ) and a rare 1913 Mercer Raceabout, a 1918 Stutz Bearcat and a 1964 Studebaker Avanti.

Along with his collection of classic cars, he has several high-performance cars. These include a 1994 McLaren F1, Porsche Carrera GT, Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, Lamborghini Miura, Ariel Atom, Dodge Viper GTS, Ford GT, Audi R8 and a custom Corvette C6RS (a modified Z06 built by Pratt & Miller). This Corvette can run on either E-85 Ethanol or gasoline. His EcoJet car runs on bio-diesel fuel. Its engine is a Honeywell LT-101 turbine. The shell is carbon-fiber over Kevlar.

Leno's Blastolene Special is a -long aluminum-bodied roadster powered by a V12 engine from an M47 Patton tank Leno bought from Blastolene Brothers. It was featured in the 2005 racing game Gran Turismo 4, and Monster Garage.

Leno's passion for classic cars led him to an affiliation with the Automobile Restoration Department at McPherson College, in McPherson, Kansasmarker. Today he serves on the National Advisory Board for the college's automotive restoration program and helps fund the Fred Duesenberg Memorial Scholarship.

Leno also has an Internet site, called "Jay Leno's Garage," which contains video clips and photos of his automobiles in detail. It also allows viewers to post photos and descriptions of their cars.

Since 2006 Leno has had his garage work on a biodiesel turbine-powered car in collaboration with GM: the EcoJet concept car.

On August 2, 2009, he made an appearance on BBC motor show Top Gear, in the Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car segment. His lap time was 1:48.8. In the interview, he told presenter Jeremy Clarkson that Top Gear was his favorite show.


  1. Jay Leno Reveals What To Expect From His New Primetime Show
  2. Carter, Bill. " Pushed From Late Night, Leno Is Set for Prime Time" The New York Times, September 12, 2009.

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