Comedian Jay Leno, former host of “The Tonight Show,” is familiar with the elegant venues of Monterey County. A major car collector, Leno is a frequent participant in the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where he has emceed the charity raffles and filmed car events for his show, “Jay Leno’s Garage.” But Leno is also more than aware that others are not so fortunate, and for the third time, this March, he will headline the Boys & Girls Clubs
of Monterey County’s major fundraiser, Comics for Kids.
CEO and President Donna Ferraro says that Leno makes
it known he is an advocate for the nonprofit, and auctions
off tours of his garage as part of the fundraiser.
“He will say when we are standing on the 18th hole in Pebble Beach on a beautiful day, ‘It’s hard to believe that 10 miles away, there’s poverty.’” Ferraro points out that
the Boys & Girls Clubs provide a safe place for children to come after school, serve meals and offer mentoring to help them succeed in their classwork
and in life.
“Our county is higher than the state and national average of poverty for children,” she says.
“We are in seven sites and are serving almost 900 children per day….Last year we served over 150,000 meals.”
Comics for Kids raises almost $300,000 a year to help kids with academic success, healthy lifestyles, good character and citizenship. “This is a very giving community,” Ferraro says. “They really believe in the future of these children and the economic viability of our community. We are working really hard to provide kids with the tools to help end the poverty cycle.”
Carmel Magazine: How are you?
Jay Leno: Ah, you know. I’m telling a few jokes, trying to make a living.
CM: Seems like it’s working out for you pretty well.
JL: Yeah, I can’t complain.
CM: Well you are coming up here in March for the Comics for Kids event for the Boys & Girls Clubs, and I wanted to start with asking why you think it’s so necessary to have these services in the community.
JL: It’s funny, people always ask why one charity is better than the other, and they’re not. They’re all important. It just seems like nowadays you have so many kids who are abandoned or have single parents who don’t have time to spend with them so they don’t have a place to go. I was lucky. I think I only came home from school twice my whole life when my mother wasn’t at home. It was like, ‘Oh!’ And then you just get into trouble. You just do stuff. You try to cook something, you light the stove, or other kids want to go in your parents’ liquor cabinet. There’s always something that happens. I was lucky. I had a parent who was always home. It just seems like common sense, really [to supervise kids]. I mean, how stupid are you?
CM: With all the bad news in the world today, including the refugee situation and terrorism… how can comedy lighten that for people in a way that it’s digestible and also at the same time inspire people to take action?
JL: I mean look, I’m not putting any more importance on it than it [should have]. I don’t know that it does inspire people to take action. I think once people can start laughing at a bad guy, [humor can stop them]…I see Trump’s anti- Muslim stuff…if you take it seriously it’s a problem… if you start laughing at it, there’s almost no defense…If you do jokes about it, then suddenly he becomes the laughing stock. But I’m giving it more importance. When you look at any of the political cartoons of the 1800s that’s what they did….they laughed at people.
CM: Obviously you are a very essential part of the Pebble Beach Concours d’ Elegance. What are your personal favorite highlights during Car Week?
JL: Well it’s sort of the Superbowl for car stuff. The fun thing about Pebble Beach is no matter what you think you know about cars, you always see something there that you never even heard of…you’re stumped. Every year I’m like, ‘What? Where was that made?’ Then you learn the history because it’s so varied. The fun thing about the hobby is it’s only 150 years old. The whole archeology of it only goes back a couple of generations. That makes it interesting and a little easier to follow…Ultimately when you’re a car person, especially in show business, finding other people who are interested in it…. they have a cursory interest. For example, I had a New York state magazine here and they wanted to do a story on my garage. And the reporter’s first question was, ‘Other than the color, what’s the difference between these cars?’
JL: Yeah, that was the question. One is steam and it’s 100 years old…I realize you kind of have your work cut out for you…I guess you finally find like-minded people. You see billionaires sitting talking with mechanics…some are rich and some are poor but they all seem to have a common interest.
CM: Is the Duesenberg really your absolute favorite car?
JL: It’s one of my favorites…it’s the pinnacle of American cars…I like everything. It’s not all fancy cars. I like Corvairs and inexpensive cars as well… they all have something.
CM: Of all the people you’ve interviewed, who has been the most interesting and who has been the worst to interview?
JL: The worst is a lot of times not necessarily the person’s fault…for example a lot of times on the “Tonight Show,” you’d get a 17-year-old supermodel who has the face and the body of a woman but is really a teenager. Okay, what do I say to this person? You can’t be flirtatious, because they’re a kid in high school. So you’re like, ‘Where do you go to school?’ You don’t really relate to them in any way. You don’t want to be some creepy old guy. They’re kids. They’re four years away from being 13… Sometimes the people who are fascinating aren’t normally the people you’d expect to be…You talk to a lot of astronauts and you’re like, ‘What’s it like to go into space?’ [And they answer:] ‘It’s cool.’ But then you get a guy like Story Musgrave who’s an astronaut but also a philosopher and a writer, and he can put it in terms that make it a little more spiritual and interesting. Sometimes the best people are not the big stars, but the character actors. The big stars are beautiful and handsome but because they are big stars they don’t really have to prove themselves. But when you get the character actors who came up from the ranks like John Goodman, although he’s a big star now, those are the people who have the funniest stories because they were kicked around and they didn’t get their due… The English are always good guests because they have a theater background and they understand you have to project so the people in the audience can hear you. Your Michael Caines and those kinds of people, they’re just natural raconteurs because they came up through theater, not film…
CM: What is your idea of the perfect day?
JL: Usually fixing something that was broken, and by the end of the day it’s running perfectly, and I go, ‘Oh there. Now I’ve accomplished something.’ Taking an engine or a car or motorcycle that’s broken and working on it, going for a ride and realizing it’s fixed, that’s the greatest.
CM: Which motorcycles do you like to ride?
JL: Well I’ve got 117 motorcycles; I’ve got a lot of them. It depends on what you want to do. Sometimes you want to go fast…You know, a bike I’m having a lot of fun with right now is a ’31 Indian I’ve had for 30 years. For some reason, I just didn’t do much with it, then I decided to go through the whole thing and now I’ve got it running. It’s a great feeling of accomplishment when you take something that’s broken and you make it work. Buying a new bike is nice, but when you take something old and you get it to run and you understand it, that makes it really kind of interesting.
The 23rd Annual Comics for Kids Auction takes place on Saturday, March 19 at the
Inn at Spanish Bay. Doors open at 5:30pm. For more information, go to bgcmc.org
or call 831/394-5171.