But as kidlike as his passion for cars is, his devotion to his work is anything but boyish. And his relationship with his wife, Mavis Leno, is a grown-up love that has sustained them for more than 20 years. In 1976, when Jay met Mavis—an activist whose campaign to help Afghani women fight oppression under the Taliban was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize—he was already doing the stand-up routines that would lead him toward the pot of gold. The son of a homemaker and an insurance salesman, both now deceased, he decided to pursue comedy when he was still in high school, after winning a talent show at the McDonald's where he worked. At Emerson College in Boston, Jay began writing short comedy sketches with his roommate, performing gigs on campus, and earning extra cash with his routine at local coffee shops.
He hasn't stopped working since. After years on the comedy club circuit, Jay first appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1977. When Carson retired in 1992, Jay won the top job. In the ten years since, The Tonight Show has won two Emmys—and Jay has not taken one sick day. He still does stand-up comedy on weekends and writes his own material. And he recently asked for less vacation.
After a tour of some of his favorite cars (he loves them all, he says, but the Duesenbergs rank somewhere near the top), I sit down to talk with one of the hardest-working men in Hollywood—and certainly one of the coolest dudes I know.
Start reading Oprah's interview with Jay Leno
Note: This interview appeared in the February 2003 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.