Leno says good­bye af­ter 22 years of Tonight

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Lynn Elber

BUR­BANK, Calif. — Jay Leno has said good­bye to The Tonight Show be­fore, but not like this. The co­me­dian be­came tear­ful and choked up Thurs­day as he con­cluded what he called the “great­est 22 years of my life.” “I am the luck­i­est guy in the world. This is tricky,” said the emo­tional Leno, step­ping down for the se­cond and pre­sum­ably last time as host of TV’s ven­er­a­ble late-night pro­gram. Jimmy Fal­lon takes over Tonight in New York. Leno shared that he’d lost his mother the first year he be­came Tonight host, his dad the se­cond and then his brother. “And af­ter that I was pretty much out of fam­ily. And the folks here be­came my fam­ily,” he said of the crew and staff of Tonight. It was a ten­der fin­ish to a farewell show that was mostly aim­ing for laughs, with tra­di­tional mono­logue jokes, clips from old shows and a wild as­sort­ment of celebri­ties help­ing to see Leno off. Leno first de­par­ture came in 2009, when he was briefly re­placed by Co­nan O’Brien but re­claimed the show af­ter a messy tran­si­tion and O’Brien’s lack­lus­tre rat­ings. In ’09, he was mov­ing to a prime-time show on NBC; this time he’s out the door, and has said he’ll fo­cus on com­edy clubs and his beloved car col­lec­tion. Look­ing sharp in a black suit and bright blue tie, Leno was greeted by an ova­tion from the VIP au­di­ence. The typ­i­cally self-con­tained comic be­trayed a bit of ner­vous­ness, stum­bling over a few lines in his mono­logue. He didn’t trip over his open­ing line, though — a fi­nal dig at his em­ployer. “You’re very kind,” he told the au­di­ence. “I don’t like good­byes. NBC does.” Leno brought his show full cir­cle with Billy Crys­tal, who was his first guest in May 1992 and his last guest Thurs­day. Crys­tal played ring­mas­ter at one point, call­ing on Oprah Winfrey, Jack Black, Kim Kar­dashian, Carol Bur­nett and oth­ers for a mu­si­cal trib­ute to Jay with a Sound of Mu­sic song par­ody. “So long, farewell, auf wieder­se­hen, good­bye. If Fal­lon tanks, you’ll be back here next year,” sang Jack Black. In a video­taped seg­ment, celebri­ties of­fered ca­reer ad­vice to Leno. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, like other politi­cians a favourite tar­get of Leno’s, struck back in his clip. “Jay, you’ve made a whole lot of jokes about me over the years, but don’t worry, I’m not up­set,” Obama said, adding that he was mak­ing Leno the U.S. am­bas­sador to Antarc­tica. “Hope you have a warm coat, fun­ny­man.” Leno, 63, said he plans to con­tinue play­ing com­edy clubs, in­dulging his pas­sion for cars and do­ing such TV work as comes his way — other than host­ing on late-night. “It’s been a won­der­ful job. This is the right time to leave,” he said last week, and make way for the next gen­er­a­tion.

Fal­lon, 39, starts his Tonight Feb. 17, with NBC hop­ing he rides the pro­mo­tional wave of its Winter Olympics cov­er­age the next two weeks.

Jay Leno (right) and Billy Crys­tal dur­ing Leno’s last Tonight Show on Thurs­day.

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