The CultureMap Interview

On the road with Jay Leno: Beloved funnyman explains why he just can't quit comedy and fast cars

On the road with Jay Leno: Why he just can't quit comedy and fast cars

News, Shelby, Alley gala, May 2015 Jay Leno
Jay Leno enjoys life on the road as a stand-up comic. Here, he is show during a performance at the Alley Theatre Gala at NRG Stadium earlier this month. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com

Jay Leno has laughter down to an art. With an outstanding run on late night television and an even longer career in stand-up comedy, he's been pleasing audiences for decades. Fresh off of a Houston visit, where he entertained guests at the Alley Theatre Gala at cavernous NRG Stadium last month, the funny man stops in Austin on Sunday (May 31) for a performance at the Long Center.

Ahead of his Austin show, we chatted with the star about his love of stand-up and returning to life on the road. 

Folks may assume Leno is getting back to his roots of comedy since departing The Tonight Show last year. But the truth is, he says he never stopped. Even while hosting the popular late night show, Leno often performed stand-up once or twice a week. Because comedy, he explains, is something you just can't quit. 

"Comedy is not one of those things — if you stop, you can't really start again," he says. "If you stop telling jokes for a year, when you get back, it's like you have to go back all the way to the beginning."

 He gives props to his Tonight Show successor. "Jimmy Fallon does a great job. He brings a different vibe." 

Being on the road offers Leno the chance to perfect his jokes, based on instant audience reaction. His addiction to making people laugh — to crafting the perfect joke — is something we can all relate to, he says. "When somebody tells you a funny joke, and you can't wait to tell it to everyone who passes by your desk, by the end of the day you can tell that joke well." 

Now that he's traded in late night TV for stand-up gigs, Leno sees a new era of late night coming to life. "Dave [Letterman] and I were from the time where you could watch the monologue and see what the host had to say about the events of the day. Nowadays, it's more about the viral videos," he says.

Most people are drawn to late night television after seeing a buzzy clip on YouTube (lip sync battles, anyone?), says Leno. But he gives props to his Tonight Show successor. "Jimmy Fallon does a great job. He brings a different vibe."

Funnily enough, Leno's latest project began with a web series on YouTube. Jay Leno's Garage, which is all about fast cars, will be part of NBC prime time programming by the end of the year. Before he comes to Austin this weekend, Leno is in Uvalde, Texas filming for the show. He's trying to get a Ford Mustang to go 200 mph.

The motor junkie says he's excited to visit his favorite Texas city.

"[Austin] has a California feel to it," he says. "It has some hills, and I'm a motorcycle guy, so I like to ride when I'm here." That and squeeze in a trip in to his favorite local barbecue joint, Iron Works BBQ.