Leno Tries To Lighten Motor City's Mood
ARI SHAPIRO, host:
And returning to Detroit, Jay Leno is in the Motor City tonight. He'll be telling jokes to people who have lost their jobs. "The Tonight Show" is taping two free shows for unemployed people in Michigan. The tickets include free parking, drinks and snacks. Celeste Headlee reports.
CELESTE HEADLEE: Jay Leno has never passed up a chance to take a shot at Detroit during his opening monologue, like this jab after GM CEO Rick Wagoner stepped down.
Mr. JAY LENO (Comedian, Host, "The Tonight Show"): According to the government, Rick Wagoner was forced to resign because of poor performance. That's embarrassing. Running an organization that loses billions of dollars and then get fired by a guy who heads up an organization who loses trillions of dollars.
HEADLEE: But Detroiters haven't taken it personally. And in fact, Leno has become something of a hero in the Motor City.
Mr. ED SCALESE(ph): He's the only one in Hollywood and all over that feels for Detroit. You know, and a lot of people have forgotten about Detroit and I think that's a terrible thing.
HEADLEE: Ed Scalese has just picked up four tickets for Leno's Comedy Stimulus Plan. Thousands of people waited in line to snag tickets to the shows, and many say that short of a job, it's just what they need.
Mr. MIKE PIPPEN(ph): I could use a couple of hours of laughter after being unemployed for seven-plus month.
Ms. DARLENE BOWIE(ph): Because we're hard hit. Detroit is hurting.
Mr. Darryl ALMASEE(ph): We need to laugh instead of going around with a sad face. We're broke, and sure, laughter always helps.
HEADLEE: That's Darryl Almasee, Darlene Bowie and Mike Pippen. Doris Kay(ph) also picked up four tickets. The 69-year-old worked at a landscaping supply company until she got her pink slip.
Ms. DORIS KAY: Just got it February 5th.
HEADLEE: That's when you found out you were laid off?
Ms. KAY: Fourteen years, almost, there.
HEADLEE: Kay is raising three of her great-grandchildren since their mother died of cancer, and she breaks down when asked what Jay Leno's show means for her.
Ms. KAY: I think it's a big help just see him, you know, and get out and not worry for a little bit.
HEADLEE: Jeff Bouchard(ph) is organizing the show for Leno in Detroit.
Ms. JEFF BOUCHARD: He would be the first person to say, look, I'm not a hero, I'm not curing cancer here, I tell jokes, but that's what I can do.
Mr. LENO: Now, the government didn't ask any of those Wall Street CEOs to quit. Isn't that kind of a double standard? If you build Cadillacs you're screwed. But if your chauffeur drives a Cadillac, you're okay.
(Soundbite of laughter)
HEADLEE: Bouchard says Leno is a strong supporter of the American auto industry and the people that build American cars. Detroit City Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel says, that means a lot.
Ms. SHEILA COCKREL (City Councilwoman, Detroit, Michigan): When you pick up the newspapers and read that the majority of Americans don't think it matters if there's an American car company - not only dealing with these huge economic challenges but dealing with the fact that, from the outside, not a lot of people seem to care.
HEADLEE: The first show was sold out in a matter of hours, and so a second night was offered, which is also now sold out. That's about 30,000 people that will spend a couple of hours listening to Jay Leno crack Jones, and Cockrel says that's enough.
Ms. COCKREL: Just give us a sense of optimism and hope, 'cause it's very tough in the state of Michigan.
HEADLEE: Unemployment numbers top 12 percent in Michigan and are expected to rise this year. That means more than one in ten people are looking for work.
For NPR News, I'm Celeste Headlee in Detroit.
(Soundbite of music)
SHAPIRO: This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.