Thank you, Jay Leno
by Jill Effron
Fall semester of my junior year at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y., I decided to study “abroad.” And by “abroad” I mean Los Angeles, and the choice of study was comedy. Ithaca happens to have an excellent communications school in Los Angeles. Your dorm is the Oakwood Apartments in Burbank, where you also complete your required college courses taught by USC and UCLA professors, as well as complete an internship. It’s genius for those who are serious about moving to Los Angeles after graduation.
It sounds all well and good, except that at age twenty I was already getting a taste of what trying to get a job would be like in my future, while I was trying to land an internship. I really wanted to work on a sitcom, but none were hiring. My mom suggested I try getting one on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno… “Your cousin Lennie gave him his start,” she reminded me.
“I know, but I want to do this on my own.” I left the production coordinator a few messages, explaining I was an Ithaca College student looking for a fall internship. A couple of weeks went by without my calls being returned. So I pulled my “Trump card,” well in this case, my “Leno card,” and asked my mom to call cousin Lennie.
My cousin Lennie is a character. He had a legendary jazz club outside of Boston called Lennie’s on the Turnpike. The building may have been small in stature, but the caliber of folks who played there was huge: Herbie Hancock, Buddy Rich and other jazz greats. Then there was a young comedian named Jay Leno, who would open for a young singer named Bette Midler and her piano player, Barry Manilow. Back before they were “Jay,” “Bette” and “Barry.” (By the way, those are the best kind of Hollywood stories, in my opinion.)
We couldn’t reach cousin Lennie, so we called another cousin who is friends with Jay. The next day I received a call from the coordinator offering me an internship. If only the rest of my career went that smoothly!!
On day one, I see him. Jay Leno. The first celebrity I have ever seen in my life. He’s in the office kitchen, dressed in a denim shirt and jeans, grabbing a drink from the fridge. I just stared.
Because that’s what any normal person would do, right? He looked up (probably because he felt my stare) and said, “Hey kiddo, you’re new, I’m Jay.” He held out his hand and we shook hands as I told him my name and who my cousins are.
“Oh, hi, I’m so glad the internship worked out. Have fun.” “Thank you, I appreciate you letting me work here.” He smiled and left the kitchen. I still stood there. In shock.
The internship lasted four months. In those four months I got to get Jim Carrey a Diet Coke, be in a few skits which did air, go Jay Walking, sit in the control booth, go over cue cards with Jay, have Richard Simmons hang up on me, see the cast of Days of Our Lives in the commissary, take my time cleaning the kitchen so I could listen in on what was being said in the writers’ room, run jokes for that night’s show from the stage to the writers’ assistant, watch Bon Jovi rehearse from the front row of the studio, sit in Jay’s chair when he wasn’t looking, watch cartoons with Kevin Eubanks and… realize that this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
There are two moments from my internship I will never forget. The first was when I was invited along to go Jay Walking. This is when Jay asks people on the street simple history or hot topic questions that they cannot answer correctly. I sat across from Jay at dinner and he told me stories about his time working at my cousin Lennie’s place. With all the people he works with on a regular basis, I was impressed that he remembered his connection to me. Nicest man.
The other moment was when Bette Midler was a guest. I had to meet her. I loved Beaches! The segment producer was kind enough to let me send a note to her dressing room. She had a closed rehearsal, so there was no way to sneak on stage to meet her like we did with Bon Jovi.
During her piece with Jay, they both spoke about their time together at Lennie’s on the Turnpike. I ran up to the segment producer, “See? That’s my cousin Lennie.” He brought me down to the stage and introduced me to the Divine Ms M. She thanked me for my note and said wonderful things about cousin Lennie. I remember nodding and thinking she smelled really good. I think I perfected my nod and smile during my internship.
I have had many internships, but this one was by far the best. I have worked on many shows and I have to say Jay Leno is one of the loveliest and funniest guys I have ever had the pleasure to work for in this industry. If it weren’t for him and his staff showing me how much fun working in this business could be, I might still be back east, crunching numbers in a cubicle somewhere wondering what it would have been like to work in Hollywood.
Thank you, Jay.
Tags: Bette Midler, Breaking into Hollywood, Comedy, Entertainment industry, Hollywood, Hollywood internship, Jay Leno, Jill Effron, Lennie's on the Turnpike, Segment producer, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno