Comedian Jay Leno’s return to television this year make sense when you know more about his background and what might be his first love besides show business: cars. The show “Jay Leno’s Garage” has been a hit on CNBC and features Leno showcasing classic cars and displaying his own need for speed. Leno is taking a break from the show to do some stand-up appearances, including Nov. 25 at the Nugget Casino Resort.
A diversity of interests has served Leno well throughout the decades. It’s a philosophy that he encapsulated on the “Leno’s Garage” website: “Anyone can have a life. Careers are hard to come by.” That career started with a ton of stand-up shows, often more than 300 a year in the ‘70s, where Leno got his start after moving from Massachusetts to Los Angeles.
He worked as a writer on TV shows and also did some acting, including the films “American Hot Wax,” “Almost Heaven,” “Americathon” and bad-taste auteur John Waters’ underground classic, “Polyester.” He also acted on sitcoms, including “One Day at a Time” and “Laverne and Shirley.
Leno’s first appearance on “The Tonight Show” was in 1977. Ten years later, Leno was named the shows permanent guest host for Johnny Carson. He went behind the famous talk-show desk full-time in 1992, while continuing to do live shows. In fact, his bio on the “Garage” page states that Leno still average more than 150 live appearances a year.
Leno first left the late-night “Tonight” show in 2009, and later that year he debuted a prime-time talk show, “The Jay Leno Show,” that lasted a year. Leno was back on the “Tonight Show” from that point until 2014. During his time on the show, “Tonight” won an Emmy for outstanding variety series and twice one a TV Guide Award for favorite late night show. Leno’s most recent honor was being given the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2014.
It’s not like Leno’s in retirement, though. There are the live shows as well as “Garage,” which started life as a web-only series on nbc.com in 2015. CNBC first showed a special with clips from the web series in 2014 and then made it a weekly show starting in 2015.
The show features many of the hundreds of classic cars that Leno has collected over the decades, including two cars that were owned by Howard Hughes. Leno also writes regularly for Popular Mechanics magazine and The Sunday Times in the U.K., sharing his knowledge about classic and modern cars.
Leno is also an author. His book, “Leading with My Chin,” was released in 1998 and was followed in subsequent years by two children’s books, “How to Be the Funniest Kind in the Whole Wild World (or Just in Your Class)” and “If Roast Beef Could Fly.”