Taylor’s latest newsletter features a couple of dramatic run-ins with one of the most celebrated coaches in football history. Read all about it!
February 7, 2014
First, and I say this with all humility and embarrassment, Jay Leno has never been a Taylor Mason fan (I love referring to myself in the 3rd person, especially when writing about something this closely tied to my career of 30+ years in showbiz).
We’ve crossed paths on numerous occasions. The first was emceeing for Leno at Zanies Comedy Club on Wells Street in Chicago. That was 1984. The comedy club scene was exploding and Jay was it’s biggest draw, a superstar for real, and selling out so many shows in advance that more had to be added. He was bigger-than-life, he was a complete professional and, in the words of my then-girlfriend-and-future-wife Marsia, “he makes everything funny.”
I would have liked to have entered the tight circle of that era’s comedy stars: Leno, Seinfeld, Richard Lewis, Larry Miller, their gatekeeper David Letterman and a few others, but I had a few strikes against me. Not the least of which is my propensity for props and music during my performance, a no-no in the world of uber-hipness that I will shun as long as I breathe. But enough about me…
Mr. Leno clearly had no interest in what I did on stage but he was always respectful and a pro. I emceed New York City’s Catch A Rising Star where I introduced him many nights. He worked hard, all the time. He treated people well (even if he didn’t like you) and he wrote a lot. His work ethic was incomparable and he had forged an impressive career. He talked about his “hell gigs,” and I often thought, “Man, I do those ALL THE TIME!” If he could do that and be as successful….
Years later I had dinner with him after a show at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. (the story is told in full in my forthcoming book, “TAYLOR MASON: IRREVERSIBLE”) I was actually a guest of Ray Romano (I can name-drop better than anyone!) and he didn’t remember me, which made sense: by then he was hosting The Tonight Show and I was a blip on a radar screen of a hugely successful career in showbiz. I told him then, and I’ll say it now: “He’s the best.”
I am sorry to see him leave The Tonight Show. Two writers I work with, Paul Seaburn and Bill Mihalic, have written for him over the past 20 years. The very funny comic Wayne Cotter had a run doing “man-on-the-street” interviews during the start of Jay’s run. He treated all very well.
Leno is genuine. He’s an American success story. He was not fired because he didn’t get ratings (he beat EVERYONE, including Letterman, decisively). He wasn’t canned because he couldn’t do the job; he excelled. He was fired because NBC is based on ideology, and there are certain things they will not accept. For one, jokes about President Obama will result in you getting fired.
Jimmy Fallon will do a good job. He’s talented, funny and he’s perfect as a host. He won’t get the ratings Leno did, but that is not the point. He’ll follow the company line. He’s a good boy, and he’ll obey the rules. He won’t make fun of the political party that runs NBC.
I appear in Arlington Heights, Illinois, on March 22! Tickets here.