Jokes, warmth spark Leno's long career - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Jokes, warmth spark Leno's long career

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For more than two decades, Jay Leno has a been a fixture in American homes, a star of "The Tonight Show" and a comedian known for his keen wit and affable style.

He's also known as someone who succeeded in Hollywood but never succumbed to it. He is often on the road, performing at events, and will continue to do that after he leaves the show.

In an interview with WNCN in 2011, he said, "People always go, 'Thank you for coming.' Well, it's really not hard work. I mean, I like to tell jokes. People like to laugh and it seems like a pretty good tradeoff."

Jack Radford, the executive director of the WakeMed Foundation, was impressed in 2011, when Leno visited for the 50th anniversary of the hospital.

"Everybody loved him," Radford said. "Sometimes that can be challenging when you have a comedian, because you're not sure exactly what subject they'll touch on that may offend some of your supporters. Jay was fantastic throughout the whole event."

In fact, Radford said, "Jay made a $10,000 donation to the children's hospital, which is part of our campaign. That was really fantastic. That says a whole lot about him."

Leno has connected to many people through his passion for cars, including Cameron Ingram of Raleigh's Road Scholars, a company that focuses on classic cars.

Ingram met Leno at Pebble Beach in 2011.

"We're showing a car that we restored for the Porsche family - Hans Peter Porsche - and someone tapped my shoulder and I turned around low and behold it's Jay Leno and he wants to do an interview," Ingram said.

What many people don't know, Ingram said, is that Leno is a trained Lamborghini mechanic.

"It's very surreal - it's Jay Leno," Ingram said of talking to Leno. "But, in a way, he's just such an affable guy. He's just so personable. He makes you feel at ease."

While Leno has been famous for decades, he spent many years trying to make a name for himself and playing places like Raleigh's Goodnights Comedy Club. Comedian John Boni, "The Silver Senior," knew him in those days and can recall seeing Leno at the Improv in New York.

Even years later, Boni can remember some jokes he heard Leno tell.

 "I remember he said, 'I just read that there was a senseless killing. What other kind of killing is there? Sensible?'" Boni said.

"I thought, ‘OK, this guy has a way with words.'"

And a way with comedy. Anyone who has spent any time with Leno knows how polished he can be when it comes to delivering comedy.

"He loves what he's doing," Boni said. "That always seemed to be true, even way back then. He's just terrific at it."

Justin Quesinberry

Justin is a reporter for WNCN and a North Carolina native. He has spent the better part of the last decade covering the news in central North Carolina.  More>>

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