Over the past couple of decades, I’ve probably interviewed Jay Leno 20 times. I’ve been to tapings of “The Tonight Show.” I’ve talked to him on the phone. I’ve been at Leno press conferences. I’ve held a recorder to his face while a small group of TV critics tossed questions at him.
And I have absolutely no idea who Jay Leno is.
Is he the nice, friendly guy who just spent a quarter of an hour on the phone with me talking about his benefit appearance in Utah on Saturday?
(That’s “Cars and Conversation with Jay Leno” at 8 p.m. at Kingsbury Hall. For more information, see my story.)
Or is he the guy who backstabbed Johnny Carson and David Letterman to get “The Tonight Show” and then backstabbed Conan O’Brien to get “The Tonight Show” back?
Is he the regular guy who loves cars?
Or is he a ruthless operator who will do anything to stay in the public eye, including betraying his friends and mentors?
I don’t know.
I do know that Leno is a generous guy who doesn’t have star affectations. And he does things few other stars would even consider.
Like when he got a letter from a kid that began, “Dear Mr. Leno, I’m kind of in trouble with my friends. I need you to help me.” “So right there, that’s intriguing,” Leno said.
The youngster told his friends that Leno is his uncle. And that his Uncle Jay would often take him for drives in his Lamborghini. Not surprisingly, the boy’s friends didn’t believe him. “It’s just such a great kid lie,” Leno said with a laugh.
The boy didn’t live that far from Leno — in the Hermosa Beach, Calif., area. So Leno called the boy’s parents, then spoke to the kid himself.
“And I say, ‘Well, I tell you what. When do you want to do this?’
“And he said, ‘Can you drive me to school?’ ”
So Leno got up, drove down to Hermosa Beach and picked the boy up about 7 a.m. to drive him to school.
“We waited until all the school buses were unloading, when most of the kids were in front,” Leno said. “Then we pull up in the Lamborghini and the two doors go up.”
He bid farewell to his “nephew,” and the boy said goodbye to his “Uncle Jay.”
As you might expect, all the schoolkids were dumbfounded.
And Leno loved it. “Those kind of things make it fun,” he said. “It was just hilarious.”
And it was something that kid will never forget.
“As much as I enjoy these cars, you have to share them,” Leno said. “You’ve got to let kids sit in them and get the experience.”
That’s the Jay Leno you can’t help but like.
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.