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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

Jay Leno's top 5 'Tonight Show' moments

NBC

26

January

Like many comedy fans, I fell out of love with Jay Leno a long time ago, long before the Conan O'Brien fiasco. More so when he elbowed David Letterman out of the way to take the Tonight Show job. But what do I know? His ratings have always remained strong, which is why Team Coco got dumped in the first place. So we should give the big guy his due. He's a veteran comedian who tours tirelessly, which makes him kind of a working class hero. Sure his material isn't exactly edgy but the guy puts in the hours on the road and on the stage with the longest nightly monologue in late night. So as we come up his last week after 22 years behind the Tonight Show desk, we can look back on some of our favorite Leno moments and bits.

Leno was recently on Ellen DeGeneres' show and talked about some of his favorite moments, which surprisingly were more personal, meeting John F. Kennedy Jr. on the show and showing an old teacher that he got the John Glenn story right after all.

His final week, guests include Betty White (Feb. 3), Matthew McConaughey (Feb. 4), Sandra Bullock and Blake Shelton (Feb. 5) and “many surprises.” Promos for the show promise lots of montages and looks back. Here are some of my favorite Leno moments that I hope to see again:

Hugh Grant: The actor made headlines picking up a prostitute named Divine Brown and was arrested for lewd conduct in 1995. He was living with the gorgeous model/actor Elizabeth Hurley at the time. In his first public appearance after the arrest, Leno asked the question we were all wondering: “What the hell were you thinking?” Grant’s humble stammer of “I did a bad thing,” actually did the trick and had us swooning again.

 

Jaywalking: One of his most popular bits makes us hate humanity. Leno asks people on the street simple trivia questions like “What is the world’s tallest mountain?” and a clueless Valley girl will look puzzled and say “Mount Rushmore?” Or “Where is Iraq?” and a dude in a Whitesnake T-shirt says “southern Europe.” It makes you wonder if we should have more limits on who can vote and drive in this country.

Headlines: Those of us in the news business are especially entertained and mortified by this recurring segment with newspaper headlines declaring “Martian Luther King Jr. Day” or ads for “Incest Repellent.” The bit is so popular Leno has made three books of his favorites and there are a number of Pinterest boards devoted to it. Sadly, there is new material daily.

Dancing Itos: This one might be better classified as "most memorable" instead of "best of," since many blame the comedy mined from the O.J. Simpson trial for a double murder in 1995 as the reason a double murder never drew a conviction. Leno added to the circus with the Dancing Itos, a troupe of dancers dressed like Judge Lance Ito. Their routines eventually incorporated a female dancer to play prosecutor Marcia Clark.

Presidents and other leaders: The current president has visited Leno many times (including an interview in 2009 that marked the first sitting president’s appearance on a late night talk show) but he’s not the only political leader to sit down for a Tonight Show interview. House Speaker John Boehner made his first appearance on The Tonight Show on Thursday , former President George W. Bush was just there in November and Sen. Ted Cruz appeared earlier that month. While critics say it demeans the importance of the office, it has been fun to see  George W. Bush put on an Al Gore mask, Hillary Clinton play Leno’s woman-on-the-street, John Kerry ride a motorcycle onto the set and Dennis Kucinich playing the dating game back in 2004 when he was running for president and still single.

Leno gets back on the road when the Tonight Show ends (actually, he never left, still touring relentlessly)  For Tampa Bay fans, Clearwater’s Capitol Theatre has booked Leno for a sold-out live show on Feb. 9 and added a second performance on March 29.

After the Winter Olympics (which begin the day after Leno’s exit on Feb. 6), Jimmy Fallon will step into his new role as the host of The Tonight Show on Feb. 17. Meanwhile, Seth Meyers will take Fallon’s old slot when Late Night with Seth Meyers debuts Feb. 24.

Leno will bookend his final week with a visit from heir apparent Fallon on Monday.. Leno’s final night, on Feb. 6, will feature Billy Crystal, who was Leno’s first guest in May 1992 when he succeeded Johnny Carson. Country superstar Garth Brooks will also appear.

Speaking of bookends, Amy Poehler will be Fallon’s final Late Night guest and Seth Meyers’ first Late Night guest as well.

[Last modified: Friday, January 24, 2014 12:03pm]

    

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