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The very best of Jay Leno

June 1, 2009 11:49 IST

Image: Jay Leno and wife Mavis
Photographs: Danny Moloshok/Reuters

Jay Leno hosted his last Tonight Show episode last Friday, and while he will still be around every night -- he's just moving to a different timeslot, earlier at night -- it's hard not to be nostalgic after his 17 year run as the king of late night American television.

Jay brought a great brand of humour to the show, and after taking 2-3 years to find his footing, he soon overtook David Letterman in the ratings and retired from the big talkshow host chair while on top, giving the throne to Conan O'Brien.

And though the opening monologue might be what separates the Jays from the Davids, Leno was fantastic at making his guests feel at ease, and getting them to open up to him on a whole different level.

Here are snippets of Jay, the interviewer, at the peak of his game.

The very best of Jay Leno

Image: Alicia Silverstone
Photographs: Max Morse/Reuters
Jay, in conversation with actress Alicia Silverstone:

Alicia: So, anyway, they've got this little bus. And it's, like, a really, really environmentally great bus. And they're these really cool people. And they're raw. They only eat raw food.
Jay: Only raw food?
Alicia: Vegan raw food.
Jay: So, like, they would eat a cow live, you mean?
Alicia: No! Vegan raw food. [audience laughs]
Jay: Oh, vegan raw food. Oh, so they don't cook the vegetables.
Alicia: Yeah, exactly.
Jay: Why? What's wrong with -- you're not hurting -- [in small voice] "help me!" It's not like the vegetables -- [audience laughter]
Alicia: No, no, no. This is like a purely -- you'd have to get them on to describe it to you. But it's really like -- it's like a really -- people have, like, "de-aged" themselves by being raw.
Jay: Right.
Alicia: You know what I mean? Like, there's this woman in Chicago. She's, like, 60, and she looks like she's about 35.
Jay: Joan Collins!
Alicia: Not here.
Jay: Oh. [audience laughs] [Alicia laughs]

The very best of Jay Leno

Image: John Leno jokes with John McCain in the makeup room before The Tonight Show
Photographs: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Jay, in conversation with Senator John McCain after the latter lost the 2009 US Elections, speaking about Joseph Lieberman:

Jay Leno: And he's an independent now; right?
Senator John McCain: He's a, quote, independent Democrat.
Jay Leno: Would you want him to be a, quote, independent Republican?
Senator John McCain: No, no.
Jay Leno: Try to get him over on the other side, kind of lure him over --
Senator John McCain: I'm honoured to have --
Jay Leno: -- get him some clothes, expensive clothes, maybe nice suit? (Laughter.)
Senator John McCain: Neiman Marcus?
Jay Leno: Neiman Marcus.
Senator John McCain: But yeah, I think that -- I think that Joe is going to probably remain as what he is, an independent who stands up for what he believes in. We need more people like Joe Lieberman.

The very best of Jay Leno

Image: Kate Winslet
Photographs: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Jay Leno, in conversation with actress Kate Winslet:

Jay: But you were here for the Golden Globes.
Kate: I was.
Jay: You were nominated. Now, it looks like such a party. Were you --?
[Makes chugging sound ] Did you have a few?
Kate: No, no. No, I didn't.
Jay: Because the English, you know, they drink.
Kate: Oh, do they really? Oh, do they really, Jay?
Jay: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
Kate: Anything else about the English?
Jay: Oh, the English, they drink.
Kate: No, I didn't. I couldn't because I was presenting the film clip of Lord of the Rings which came right at the end of the ceremony, so I was drinking water and drank too much water and desperately needed to pee right before I had to go and present.
Kate:So I go to the ladies room, and there's an enormous queue. And I thought, "Oh no," and I go into the gents.
Jay: Oh, you go into the men's room?
Kate: Oh, no, I did. I went into the men's room. Oh, sorry, sorry, not looking. Ooh, ooh, ooh. Like this. [covers eyes] So, yes.
Jay: Were the men at all shocked? And you were using the urinal, which is the worst part.
Kate: But no, when you've got to go, you have got to go. So I had to go. I had to go.
Jay: You see, women can do that. If a man said, "I have to go" and barged into the ladies room, "Hey! Out!"
[Laughter] He would be arrested. Men would be, "Oh, look at that one, oh, sorry."
Kate: No, I didn't look, though. I didn't look.
Jay: Women never look.

The very best of Jay Leno

Image: Traci Lords
Photographs: Fred Prouser/Reuters
Jay, in conversation with adult entertainment icon Traci Lords:

JAY: I love this, I love your 'Hello Kitty' purse. This is such a... this is, this is a great girl purse.
TRACI: What do you mean?
JAY: It just looks like... you know, like something you'd hit a messer with on the street, you know, like a guy would say to you something and you'd go bonk and there'd be lead at the bottom.
TRACI: Exactly.
JAY: I mean, I just like it, it just looks like... you know, 'Hello Kitty', those toys.
TRACI: Well look in there, see what's in there.
JAY: Okay. You know, I never open a woman's purse cos I find things I don't understand, you know? That's why I don't, I don't know what they are, they're that somehow women use to do something, and I don't wanna know about it.
TRACI: It's not scary, I promise, Jay.
JAY: No, no, I don't wanna open it, go ahead, because I'll go 'What's this thing?' and I'll look like an idiot.
TRACI: God... okay. Okay this...
JAY: It looks like a lipstick.
TRACI: It looks like a lipstick to you but...
JAY: It looks like a lipstick but it's what?
TRACI: It's a lethal weapon." (the stick has a little knife instead)
JAY: Oh, how lovely! Now what is that? Is that for protection or doing circumscision?
TRACI: No, um..."
JAY: What is that? Look at that. You really think, you really think so, alright, I pull up the 'Okay, lady, gimme your Hello Kitty purse' and you pull out this lipstick...

The very best of Jay Leno

Image: Whoopi Goldberg
Photographs: Marc Serota/Reuters

Jay, in conversation with comedienne Whoopi Goldberg:

Jay: Do you talk about men and women a lot?
Whoopi: Yes I do.
Jay: Well, what do you talk about?
Whoopi: Well, I talk about guys in the bathroom.
Jay: Now what about guys in the bathroom?
Whoopi: Guys in the bathroom are funny. Splotches of things end up in places and you just don't understand why. [big laughs] Ya know, I'm trying to... be good right now. 'Cause I won't tell you exactly what you're asking me, but I'm trying to be, ya know, more calm.
Jay: No! That's all right. You can be the way you wanna be.
Whoopi: Well then, why is there yellow spots in the corner of the shower when the toilet is over there?! [huge laughs and the women in the audience applaud] Those are the questions that I've been asking.
Jay: Really?
Whoopi: Yeah.
Jay: Where are you showering?
[Whoopi bursts into laughter]

The very best of Jay Leno

Image: David Hyde-Pierce
Photographs: Sam Mircovich/Reuters

Jay, in conversation with actor David Hyde-Pierce:

JL: As I mentioned before the commercial, I saw this, one of them goofy Hollywood celebrity columns...
DHP: Uh hum.
JL: David Hyde Pierce attending his first Hollywood premiere.
DHP: Yes I did.
JL: For uh... what movie was it?
DHP: Frankenstein. It was the premiere of Frankenstein.
JL: Right. But you were in Wolf with Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer?
DHP: Uh hum. Yep. Yes I was.
JL: So obviously, this is not your first premiere, you went to that.
DHP: Not that was the first one I went to. They didn't ask.
JL: They didn't ask you to come to your own...?
DHP: No, no. I'm sure it was a postal mistake.
JL: Oh, I see.
DHP: Like, you know, the thing is coming eventually.
JL: Right, right. So I see. So you missed your own premiere?
DHP: Yeah. I saw a screening with like the crew. [laughter]
JL: Oh, well that's nice.
DHP: We had a good time.
JL: And that's more fun anyway. Sure.
DHP: Yeah, yeah. Who wants to hang out with Jack and Michelle?
JL: Right, right.

The very best of Jay Leno

Image: Gillian Anderson and Jay Leno

Jay, in conversation with actress Gillian Anderson:

GILLIAN: I was told, that I'm going to be in London next week presenting somebody with a two million dollar insurance claim check, cause he - he's receiving two million dollars of -- um -- abduction insurance. Alien abduction insurance.
JAY: Oh and you were gonna present --
GILLIAN: And apparently I'm -- I'm gonna be there to present him with his two million dollars. 
JAY: They have abduction insurance?
GILLIAN: They -- they have alien abduction -- and they have alien pregnancy insurance now. (Audience laughs. Gillian makes a slightly skeptical face)
JAY: Oh, that's -- yeah...I think, uh -- didn't, uh -- Michael Jackson's wife have that, I think?
GILLIAN: Ooooooohhh.
(Audience is doing the same thing, then cheers. Jay laughs. Gillian takes a sip of her water.)
JAY: Now you do a lot of special effects on the show...
GILLIAN: Can I -- can I put my cup here? (on the desk) Is that OK?
JAY: (in husky, leering voice) You can do whatever you want.
(Audience laughs. Gillian nods and smiles)
It's your show. You're a star. You're a star, baby. Whatever you want. You got it.
(wearily, but smiling) Ohhhh Jay.
JAY: The desk. Take it home.
GILLIAN: (smacks lips, puts cup down) Ahhhh.

The very best of Jay Leno

Image: Jay Leno shares a moment with US President Barack Obama off set of the Tonight Show at NBC Studios
Photographs: Ho New/Reuters

Jay, in conversation with President Barack Obama, speaking about basketball:

Jay: Let me ask you, when people [ask you] "Mr. President, would you like to play?" "Yes, I would."Do they throw the game? Come on.
(Laughter and applause.)
Obama: I don't see why they would throw the game -- except for all those Secret Service guys with guns around.
Jay: Yes, exactly.
Obama: I will say that I don't think I get the hard fouls that I used to. Usually I don't --
Jay: Yes, Reggie goes, ohhh, I missed, ohhh.
Obama: Reggie doesn't do that. This is Reggie Love, my assistant. He played for Duke, very competitive guy. He doesn't let me win because, as he pointed out, if you lose to Obama you never hear the end of it.

The very best of Jay Leno

Image: Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno

Jay, on his last Tonight Show, in conversation with Conan O'Brien, the new host:

Conan: You know, this is a compliment to you. I keep hearing over and over -- because I've done about 800 interviews in the last three days, and all I  keep hearing over and over again, which is a compliment to this man, "Big shoes to fill. You've got big shoes to fill."
Over and over.
JAY: But you've got big shoes. Look.
Conan: I've got big shoes.
JAY: Those are big shoes.
CONAN: But I realise -- and it's over and over again. I went through this in '93 when I took over The Late Night Show."  Reporters were saying, "Big shoes to fill there, yeah." Because I was talking to reporters from the 1920s.
JAY LENO: Right, exactly.
CONAN O'BRIEN: "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Come on, now, see." And now I'm doing it again.
JAY LENO: Right.
CONAN O'BRIEN: And I'm realising I want to -- some day in my career -- I want to try to fill little shoes.
CONAN O'BRIEN: Some day I want to replace a local weatherman who's been on the air for about three months and who is no good and everybody hates. Just once I would like to do that.

The very best of Jay Leno

Image: Larry King
Photographs: Fred Prouser/Reuters

And finally, Jay in conversation with CNN's Larry King on Larry King Live, Leno being interviewed about his long-running competition with David Letterman:

KING: For awhile, Letterman was owning the show, publicity-wise and otherwise, right?

JAY: Well, you know the thing you have to understand about this kind of business, it's a bit like Ford and Chrysler. Both are extremely successful. Both get paid a lot of money, probably more than we're worth. And if somebody happens to sell a few more cars in one month, well, they are the champ. They are the No 1 car.

You know, America doesn't seem to like No 2. There is only No 1. And if you happen to pull ahead a little bit, oh, suddenly there's the big hoopla. It doesn't really change that much for me.

I mean, I'm glad that I see changes in the show that reflect in the ratings. So, I feel real good about that.

KING: But if they pull ahead, usually one will say, you know, we made that wagon. And that wagon with the new fins works. OK.

JAY: Right. Right. Right.

KING: What works?

JAY: With the new fins. I can the last time you bought a car, Larry.


JAY: Yeah, the new fins for 1959.