Residents hoping that laughter is the best medicine for down times will have two chances to seek treatment from funnyman Jay Leno when he visits in May.
About 4,000 tickets for a free show in Wilmington had been handed out Monday, and the comedian scheduled a second performance, said Suzy Kappaz, of Gail & Rice, the Southfield, Mich.-based entertainment production company distributing the tickets.
Leno is bringing his “Comedy Stimulus” show to the area on May 10 as a morale booster.
People in shorts, sunhats and baseball caps sat in lawn chairs or on the ground to form lines that stretched out from four entrances to the Roberts Centre, where Leno will perform.
Penny Tapp, 57, of Highland, arrived about 7 a.m. Monday, more than four hours before ticket distribution began.
Tapp, who lost her freight delivery job in November, said Leno has a big heart for doing the show.
“It’s like stretching your arms out and hugging the community and saying, ’It’s going to be OK,”’ said Tapp, who began to choke up with emotion. “I think it’s tremendously important.”
A desire to reach out to even more people hit by tough times prompted Leno to add an evening show, for which 4,000 tickets will be available at the Roberts Centre beginning Tuesday, Kappaz said.
Wilmington, a city of 12,000 residents, has drawn national attention as a vivid example of the economic struggles of small U.S. communities during the recession, and both presidential candidates discussed its plight last year.
Earlier this month, DHL said it will move U.S. hub operations for its international business from Wilmington to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport by mid- to late summer to save money. DHL expects to add 180 full-time positions and 650 part-time jobs at the airport in Hebron, Ky., more than 50 miles southwest of Wilmington.
About 8,000 workers were employed at the Wilmington Air Park a year ago when DHL Express announced it was pulling out, and about 3,500 remain. Wilmington Mayor David Raizk (pronounced RESK) says at least half of them will lose their jobs when DHL leaves this summer.
Jack Vyhnalek works at the air park as a pilot for ASTAR and has been told he will lose his job by next March. Sitting on the ground at the head of a line hunched over a laptop computer, Vyhnalek said he is trying to start his own photography business.
Vyhnalek, 50, of Lebanon, said he appreciates what Leno is doing.
“It’s an excellent way for him to reach into a community, which is obviously hurt and devastated and maybe for just even a few moments take our minds off of what’s happening around here and it will lift us up,” he said. “If you can lift up your chin and laugh once in a while, it makes things a lot easier.”
Leno also has performed free comedy concerts in the recession-wracked Detroit area.
During the 90-minute show, Leno will “say a few words to the community about how he understands what they’re going through and what a challenge it is and just to hang in there,” Kappaz said.
The ticket distribution also drew people who are employed but undergoing tough financial times, such as Kim Corey, 48, of Chillicothe. She works as a motel desk clerk making $7.30 an hour and until recently had been homeless.
Corey said she plans to take her mother to the Leno show as a Mother’s Day gift.
“It kind of gives us a little hope,” she said. “It makes you feel good that he’s talking about something we’re all worried about.”