When Jay Leno plays Vegas, he jets into and out of the city on the same night he does stand-up here. He likes Vegas, but its vices hold no interest for him.
“I don’t gamble, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t fool around,” he says. “What am I going to do” in Vegas?
Well, tonight he’ll be performing tonight at Mirage. He’ll fly in and out. This must cost him serious fuel prices for the jet, right?
It gets “a little crazy, but hey, that’s OK, it’s all part of the job,” he says.
On the other hand, he doesn’t spend all that much on gas for his antique car collection. His garage is six miles away.
“I have the kind of cars where you work on them for an hour, you drive for 10 minutes, they break, and then you work on them for another hour. I probably put less miles on a car than almost anybody else. I have friends who commute 90 minutes each way. They put hundreds of miles on cars.
“To me, the fun part is fixing the car up and making it work,” he says. “When you show up at work in a 1906 Stanley Steamer steam car with a fire underneath it, people are astounded.”
I ask him if working on cars is a kind of a Zen, a way to meditate away a hard day’s thoughts. No way, he says.
“My life is not so horrible I need to get away from anything,” he says. “I make a lot of money. People applaud. The women are attractive. The food is good. There’s not a lot you need to get away from.
“It’s not, ‘Oh my life is so awful, I have to talk to Anne Hathaway tonight, what a living hell.’ Really, there a lot worse jobs you can have than this. People [in show business] that complain about show business: shut up; find another f… job, OK? So you have to say hello to people once in a while — really? If you don’t like that, get a real job.”
“I’m a huge believer in low self-esteem. Two people have high self-esteem: Criminals and actors. You go into any penitentiary in the country, they have tremendous self-esteem. They think they’re geniuses and ‘they’ll never catch me.’ And actors.”
But even unfamous people who are close to famous people can catch the celebrity bug. Leno’s own father fell that way, once, Leno says. He used to bring his parents to Vegas, and they got accustomed to the big layouts of food and more.
“One day, I’m doing a show in Lowell, Mass., in an auditorium. I hear my dad yelling at the guy, ‘You know in Vegas, my boy gets a big spread!’ I said, ‘Dad, come over here. We’re not in Vegas. We’re in Lowell. You’re getting too used to show business, Pop. You can’t demand the Genoa salami here in Lowell; there’s a sink and a urinal. Be very grateful when you go to Vegas.’”
(Illustration by the great David Stroud)