Pop Culture

No joke — Leno talks to himself about standup

Before Jay Leno became host of “The Tonight Show,” he once held the title of “the country’s third most frequent flier,” and was given an award by American Airlines for racking up so many miles. Leno shares this anecdote as the airline’s first guest editor of its in-flight magazine, American Way. Part of his duties as guest editor included conducting an interview — Leno interviewed himself — and he seemed to use the platform as a defense of “The Jay Leno Show.”

The pertinent question comes whenLeno asked himself: “You’ve been incredibly successful on TV, why do you still do standup?”

There are other ways that question could have been phrased to make it more timely. Like, “You’ve been incredibly successful on TV, up until recently, when it seems you’re in a time slot that really doesn’t showcase what you’re capable of doing best, is that part of why do you still do standup?” Or, “You’ve been incredibly successful on TV, why don’t you just stop and do standup?”

Leno’s show Tuesday did just have its highest rated episode since the fourth night it aired back in September (the total audience was 8.4 million, he typically draws between 4 and 5 million) but that had more to do with getting a boost from “The Biggest Loser” finale. Leno’s answer is twofold. First, he believes in having two jobs in order to “live on one job and bank the other.” Then he goes on to make an argument that as long as people are buying tickets for standup, then the television show must be “doing fine.”

  • Slideshow Photos

    Justin Lubin / Episodic

    Image: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    A look at Jay Leno’s comedic career, including his work as “Tonight Show” host and philanthropy.

  • Image: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    of

    Happy to be back -

    Jay Leno basks in the glow as he returns to "The Tonight Show" at the NBC studio in Burbank, Calif., on Monday, March 1. "It's good to be home,” he said as he began his monologue. "I’m Jay Leno, your host. At least, for a while."

    NBC / NBC
  • Image:  Lindsey Vonn during an interview with host Jay Leno on March 1, 2010

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    of

    Golden girl -

    Olympic gold medal winning skier Lindsey Vonn chats with Leno during his first night back on "The Tonight Show" on Monday, March 1. "Did you see her?" Leno marveled. "When it comes to going downhill, nobody is faster. OK, except NBC."

    NBC / NBC
  • Image: Jay Leno Show

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    of

    10 spot -

    Leno tapes the inaugural episode of NBC's "The Jay Leno Show" in Burbank, Calif., on Sept. 14, 2009.The host broke new ground on broadcast television with the launch of the show at 10 p.m. -- a timeslot normally reserved for scripted programming. The show, however, failed to attract viewers and NBC pulled the plug on its "Leno experiment" on Jan. 11, 2010.

    NBC via Getty Images / NBC via Getty Images
  • Conan O'Brien, who inherited the "Tonight Show" desk from Leno, was Leno's final guest on Friday, May 29, 2009. Leno told him he was the perfect choice as a replacement.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    of

    The torch is passed -

    Conan O'Brien, who inherited the "Tonight Show" desk from Leno, was Leno's final guest on Friday, May 29, 2009. Leno told him he was the perfect choice as a replacement.

    NBC via AP / NBC via AP
  • Jay Leno performs his stand-up act during a Middlesex Community College Celebrity Forum event at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium in Lowell, Mass., in 2008. Despite his "Tonight" commitment, Leno continues to do stand-up around the country.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    of

    Still doing stand-up -

    Jay Leno performs his stand-up act during a Middlesex Community College Celebrity Forum event at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium in Lowell, Mass., in 2008. Despite his "Tonight" commitment, Leno continues to do stand-up around the country.

    AP / AP
  • Leno and wife Mavis pose during the cocktail reception at the 30th anniversary Carousel of Hope Ball to benefit the Barbara Davis center for childhood diabetes on Oct. 25, 2008, in Beverly Hills, Calif. The couple married in 1980.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    of

    An evening out with the missus -

    Leno and wife Mavis pose during the cocktail reception at the 30th anniversary Carousel of Hope Ball to benefit the Barbara Davis center for childhood diabetes on Oct. 25, 2008, in Beverly Hills, Calif. The couple married in 1980.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Sen. John McCain appeared on "The Tonight Show" on Nov. 11, 2008. It was McCain's first public appearance since losing the presidential election to Barack Obama on Nov. 4.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    of

    Post-election chat -

    Sen. John McCain appeared on "The Tonight Show" on Nov. 11, 2008. It was McCain's first public appearance since losing the presidential election to Barack Obama on Nov. 4.

    NBC via Getty Images / NBC via Getty Images
  • Leno films an installment of his popular Jay Walking segment for "The Tonight Show." In the segment, he picks random strangers on the street and asks them questions about history and current events to often very funny results.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    of

    Jay Walking -

    Leno films an installment of his popular Jay Walking segment for "The Tonight Show." In the segment, he picks random strangers on the street and asks them questions about history and current events to often very funny results.

    Splash News / Splash News
  • Chris Rock appeared on "The Tonight Show" on Sept. 9, 2005, to sign a Harley-Davidson motorcycle that Leno was using to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The motorcycle, which was auctioned on eBay, sold for $1.5 million.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    of

    Show him the money -

    Chris Rock appeared on "The Tonight Show" on Sept. 9, 2005, to sign a Harley-Davidson motorcycle that Leno was using to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The motorcycle, which was auctioned on eBay, sold for $1.5 million.

    NBC via Getty Images / NBC via Getty Images
  • Leno leaves the Santa Barbara County Courthouse in Santa Maria, Calif., on May 24, 2005, after serving as a defense witness in Michael Jackson's child molestation trial. As part of a gag order issued during the trial, Leno was barred from making jokes about the singer in his "Tonight" monologues. After NBC challenged the order, the judge amended it, allowing the host to joke about Jackson as long as the jokes didn't relate to his testimony.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    of

    For the defense -

    Leno leaves the Santa Barbara County Courthouse in Santa Maria, Calif., on May 24, 2005, after serving as a defense witness in Michael Jackson's child molestation trial. As part of a gag order issued during the trial, Leno was barred from making jokes about the singer in his "Tonight" monologues. After NBC challenged the order, the judge amended it, allowing the host to joke about Jackson as long as the jokes didn't relate to his testimony.

    Pool via Getty Images / Pool via Getty Images
  • Oprah Winfrey came to Burbank to help Leno celebrate the 50th anniversary of "The Tonight Show" with a cake commemorating its hosts from past and present.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    of

    Happy anniversary -

    Oprah Winfrey came to Burbank to help Leno celebrate the 50th anniversary of "The Tonight Show" with a cake commemorating its hosts from past and present.

    NBC via Getty Images / NBC via Getty Images
  • In 2004, it was announced that Conan O'Brien, left, would succeed Leno as host of "The Tonight Show." Leno's last show as "Tonight" host was May 29, 2009.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    of

    This 'Tonight' successor -

    In 2004, it was announced that Conan O'Brien, left, would succeed Leno as host of "The Tonight Show." Leno's last show as "Tonight" host was May 29, 2009.

    WireImage / WireImage
  • Leno introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger at his victory celebration at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles after the actor was elected governor of California in a special recall election on Oct. 7, 2003. Schwarzenegger had announced his candidacy on "The Tonight Show."

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    of

    A mind for politics -

    Leno introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger at his victory celebration at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles after the actor was elected governor of California in a special recall election on Oct. 7, 2003. Schwarzenegger had announced his candidacy on "The Tonight Show."

    Corbis / Corbis
  • Jay Leno served as Grand Marshal at "Love Ride 19" on Nov. 10, 2002, in Glendale, Calif. The event benefited Reading By 9 and other charities.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    of

    A pause for the cause -

    Jay Leno served as Grand Marshal at "Love Ride 19" on Nov. 10, 2002, in Glendale, Calif. The event benefited Reading By 9 and other charities.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Hugh Grant appeared on at "The Tonight Show" shortly after being arrested for soliciting Hollywood prostitute Divine Brown in 1995. Leno famously asked the actor, "What were you thinking?"

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    of

    'What were you thinking?' -

    Hugh Grant appeared on at "The Tonight Show" shortly after being arrested for soliciting Hollywood prostitute Divine Brown in 1995. Leno famously asked the actor, "What were you thinking?"

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Leno spoke to the audience in lieu of his regular monologue during the taping of "The Tonight Show" on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2001. This was the first show to be telecast after the Sept. 11 attacks.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    of

    A time to laugh -

    Leno spoke to the audience in lieu of his regular monologue during the taping of "The Tonight Show" on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2001. This was the first show to be telecast after the Sept. 11 attacks.

    Reuters / Reuters
  • Leno, center and singer Elton John, left, looked on while then-New York Giants defensive back Jason Sehorn surprises his girlfriend, actress Angie Harmon, with a marriage proposal during the taping of "The Tonight Show" on Monday, March 13, 2000. Her answer was "Yes."

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    of

    An 'ahhh' moment -

    Leno, center and singer Elton John, left, looked on while then-New York Giants defensive back Jason Sehorn surprises his girlfriend, actress Angie Harmon, with a marriage proposal during the taping of "The Tonight Show" on Monday, March 13, 2000. Her answer was "Yes."

    NBC via AP / NBC via AP
  • Jazz great Branford Marsalis, right, served as musical director during Leno's first three years as "Tonight" host. Marsalis left the show in 1995.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    of

    Horning in -

    Jazz great Branford Marsalis, right, served as musical director during Leno's first three years as "Tonight" host. Marsalis left the show in 1995.

    NBC / NBC
  • Leno poses with one of his many motocycles. An avid collector, he auctioned off a Harley-Davidson autographed by celebrity "Tonight Show" guests in 2001 to help victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    of

    Hog heaven -

    Leno poses with one of his many motocycles. An avid collector, he auctioned off a Harley-Davidson autographed by celebrity "Tonight Show" guests in 2001 to help victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Leno made a guest appearance as a biker on the TV series "Alice," playing alongside Vic Tayback, right, and Linda Lavin. Leno has a passion for motorcycles in real life, and a large collection to show for it.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    of

    Bringing his passion to the small screen -

    Leno made a guest appearance as a biker on the TV series "Alice," playing alongside Vic Tayback, right, and Linda Lavin. Leno has a passion for motorcycles in real life, and a large collection to show for it.

    CBS via Getty Images / CBS via Getty Images
  • Leno made a guest appearance on "Laverne and Shirley" in 1979, working alongside series stars Cindy Williams, left, and Penny Marshall.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    of

    Jay Leno -- actor -

    Leno made a guest appearance on "Laverne and Shirley" in 1979, working alongside series stars Cindy Williams, left, and Penny Marshall.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
  • Jay Leno made his first "Tonight Show" appearance in 1977, joining host Johnny Carson, right, and Ed McMahon, left, on the couch. Leno would become Carson's regular substitute host in 1987 before taking the helm of the show in 1992.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    of

    A taste of his future -

    Jay Leno made his first "Tonight Show" appearance in 1977, joining host Johnny Carson, right, and Ed McMahon, left, on the couch. Leno would become Carson's regular substitute host in 1987 before taking the helm of the show in 1992.

    NBC via Everett Collection / NBC via Everett Collection

“When you work in TV, you get these odd notes on little slips of paper that say you are or aren’t doing well with boys between the ages of 9 and 13 or you need to make more cat jokes because the people with cats aren’t watching often enough,” Leno said. “But if you walk into a 1,500-seat theater and it’s packed, you know you are doing fine. If it’s only two-thirds full, you know you have some more work to do.”

He might be packing in audiences for standup, but unless he attracts more viewers for “The Jay Leno Show,” several insiders say there’s a good chance he’ll be moved to another time slot before his contract runs out.

Beyonce & Jay-Z talk babies
Is there a little Sasha Fierce on the way? Us Weekly is reporting that during a recent night out, Beyoncé and Jay-Z “were running baby names past friends,” according to a source. “One they all liked was a girl’s name.” Which, really, tells us nothing, other than there may be a girl’s name out there that they like. If there is a baby on the way don’t expect an early announcement — Beyonce’s confirmation of her marriage to Jay-Z came by way of saying “I don’t deny it,” about six months after her wedding.

Keeping tabs on Tiger

The Tiger Woods saga is the most popular cover subject among the weeklies. No one gets it totally right though, if you’re going for the perfect mix of cover image, headlines, and content. The best though, is People. Their story is the most unique, as it’s from Elin’s perspective (“Tiger’s Wife Elin: Inside her ordeal”) but what they get wrong is the lead art — a profile shot of Elin where her face is barely visible from behind hair, sunglasses, and high collar. Not really eye catching. But at least it doesn’t make your eyes hurt, like the OK! cover. They’ve got an exclusive with alleged mistress Rachel Uchitel, and if you can make out the headline through the jungle of words and colors you’ll see it’s “My side of the story,” only nowhere in the four-page Q&A can one find her side of the story. In fact, the closest she comes to any part of the Tiger story in general, much less her side, is to say she’s been characterized as a villain, and when you’re judged by the nation, it’s difficult and horrible. The rest of the interview involves mundane details about her life: She watches “Nancy Grace” every night, likes murder mysteries and has two dogs (one named Rudy Guiliani and another, Ozzy Osbourne).

Courtney Hazlett delivers the Scoop Monday through Friday on msnbc.com. Follow Scoop on Twitter @courtneyatmsnbc

TOP