Known for his longtime stint as the host of The Tonight Show, Jay Leno is more than just a late-night talking head and stand-up comic. He’s also a car fanatic and an aficionado of Detroit. Though we planned to ask if we could take him on a tour of Henry Ford Museum, before we could even get to it, the comedian told us the institution is one of his favorite places to visit when he’s in town.
Here for two shows on June 7, we quizzed Leno about not only what to expect from his show, but his favorite things to do in the city and his favorite cars coming out of it.
Metro Times: So what can we expect from your show?
Jay Leno: Well, I’m going to be telling jokes. That’s pretty much what you do when you’re a comedian. [laughs] You go out there and you tell jokes and, hopefully, people laugh ... it’s pretty simple.
MT: Is any of your material going to be about Detroit?
Leno: Hopefully we’ll do something that’s relevant, but if I tell you jokes, then you print them and then I don’t do them ’cause they’d be in the paper.
MT: Have you spent a lot of time in Detroit?
Leno: I have! I like Detroit a lot. The Henry Ford Museum is, I think, one of the greatest museums in the world. I’m a real fan of industrial history, especially early 20th century, late 1800s, and, to me, that’s what that place is all about. It’s truly one of the great museums of the world. I enjoy it.
MT: Are there any other places in the city you enjoy going?
Leno: I enjoy going to [John K.] King’s bookstore downtown. Detroit used to be called the Paris of the Midwest, I know some people find that hard to believe, but you can see what it used to be and what it’s going to be again, and that’s what I like. I like the fact that they haven’t decimated all the early structures. I like the attempt to bring it back. I know it’s hard, I know a lot of times it isn’t even realistic, but I think people are trying, especially as more high-tech stuff moves into Michigan. I’d like to think it will get better.
MT: What’s your experience in the city been like?
Leno: I came a couple years ago and did those [free] shows [for Michigan’s unemployed], and they were the nicest people. There was a total of 40,000 people over two nights, and we have eight security guards and people came in, sat down, we gave them a soda and a bag of chips or something, and they left. There was no problem. There was no incident. I was a little scared it might get crazy, but it didn’t. Everyone was really nice and really did appreciate the fact that we just wanted to come and do the show. I got wonderful thank-you letters from people. There are a lot of nice people around; you just don’t really hear about them, and Detroit has plenty of those people — and that’s what I really like about being there. It didn’t seem like a scary city, it didn’t seem like a dangerous city. Maybe I’m being naïve, but when you have a good experience someplace, that’s what you remember. I think Detroit has a lot of good experiences left in it.
MT: Have you been to the Detroit auto show before?
Leno: I have. I haven’t been there in the last seven or eight years, just because of The Tonight Show, it’s a little hard to get there, but I enjoy it when I go there. The Detroit auto show is a great one. In the last couple years there’s been some competition. For years and years it was the leader, and I suppose it still is. GM and Ford, well, GM is having some problems with the ignition thing, but Ford is having a better year and Chrysler is going OK. GM is doing really well in terms of sales. Corvette and Cadillac — - it’s fun to see those brands get reinvigorated again. I’m one of those people who really voted for the bailout. Once you lose your industrial base, you never get it back again. You look at the Chevy Volt and some of the other things that GM is doing, and you realize this is industry-leading technology.
MT: What’s your favorite car coming out of Detroit right now?
Leno: The new Corvette is just pretty incredible in terms of value for the dollar. The Chevy Volt is a brilliant car. I have one, and I fill it with gas once a year on Dec. 5. Admittedly, I’m just running errands around town with it. It’s a really good piece of technology. It’s pretty amazing.
MT: Last I checked, you had 80-something cars in your collection. What’s the number now?
Leno: There are about 128, something like that.
MT: Whoa, does that include motorcycles too?
Leno: No, there are 93 more of those.
Leno: Yeah, it’s a little goofy.
Jay Leno will perform at Sound Board at Motor City Casino Hotel at 7 and 10 p.m. on Saturday, June 7. Tickets are $45-$65. 2901 Grand River Ave., Detroit; 313-309-4614; soundboarddetroit.com.