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Photo by Andres Felix Romero | Audience members file into the Arkley Center before Leno's set.

Humboldt hosts late-night legend Jay Leno


by Andres Felix Romero

Originally printed March 1, 2023

He’s been burned by gasoline, cracked both his kneecaps after being clotheslined by a wire while riding a motorcycle, and he testified at Michael Jackson’s 2005 trial. He’s the hardest working man in show business, and he’s met several sitting presidents. He’s Jay Leno. 

The Centre Arts Department of Cal Poly Humboldt hosted two Jay Leno stand-up comedy shows on Feb. 26 at the Arkley Center for Performing Arts in Eureka, CA. Centre Arts puts on many performances for the Humboldt Community, but Leno’s first outing in Eureka is undoubtedly one of the biggest names they’ve booked. 

I was amazed to see that Jay Leno, an entertainment legend known for his shows such as Jay Leno’s Garage and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, was going to be down the street from campus.

Being a huge fan of stand-up comedy, I was pleasantly surprised when Leno managed to hit my favorite markers in any comic’s set in his first punchline; personal stories, social commentary, and just the right amount of dark humor. He began his show by telling us how the process of healing from a garage accident last fall had left his face with burns that came with  a surprising expense.

“The most expensive part of the situation was the gasoline that burned my face,” Leno said to the crowd. 

Not every joke landed for me, and some plain went over my head. Granted, I don’t always understand humor or sarcasm. Leno also knew his audience and jokes were directed to an audience more his age. I enjoyed the self-awareness the seasoned comedian displayed.

Despite this, I still appreciated hearing Leno compare different aspects of society from decades ago to today, such as how the Sears catalog is the original Amazon Prime. Also hilarious are his own personal thoughts as an elder in a world that is always changing socially and developing technologically. 

My favorite parts of Leno’s show came from his social commentary, which he often gave through jokes on topics such as backwards values on violence in entertainment. His set included stories of his wife refusing to watch animal violence on television, but enjoyed a scene where a woman brutally stabs her husband to death. One of the highlights of the night was the story about a mafia member venting to Leno about how The Sopranos was offensive, because a mob boss going to therapy in the show highlights the strange value system in entertainment. 

“Oh, it’s not the murder and beheadings,” said Leno, “It’s the mental health aspect he’s upset about.”

  Towards the end of his set, Leno began to stray away from personal anecdotes and began to rapid-fire jokes and punchlines on a variety of subject matter, some risky and others lighthearted. Getting the audience to laugh at a topic as heavy as Bill Cosby’s abuse allegations to something as stupid as remote control breast enhancements showed me Leno’s veteran status as a stand-up comedian. 

My favorite of these punchlines was on the topic of politics and how just about anyone from either side of the political aisle can enjoy them, like when he poked fun at the investigations into Joe Biden.

“You know what you call someone who digs up dirt on Joe Biden?,” Leno questioned the audience. “An archeologist.”

After the show, some of Leno’s fans waited behind the Arkley Center for a chance to meet him. A half-hour later, Leno popped out the back door of the building. 

He greeted us, took pictures, shook hands and signed autographs. He still carried the same calm demeanor he had had on stage that made it feel easy to talk to a man who has a chin known by most of the nation. It was cold outside, he was likely exhausted from flying into Humboldt earlier in the day, but he still took a few minutes to chat with us. It was a great lesson on humility.

Before he left, I asked Leno if he could share any advice to Cal Poly Humboldt students trying to figure out how to succeed in their fields. Leno recommends that when trying to contact someone in your field, be personable by writing a letter to stand out in a digital age and be professional.

“But if you actually handwrite a letter, you got to have decent penmanship.” Leno said. “Don’t write in crayon on a paper bag.”

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