Depending on how you do the math, this week marks the end of Jay Leno’s 20+ year tenure on The Tonight Show. I have always been a fan, but frequently notice Jay never misses an opportunity to crack a joke that sometimes paints our Company in an awkward light.
After hearing all the monologues over the years, I was surprised to notice several photos of Jay on the walls celebrating Southwest 25th Anniversary with our Employees, and most notably, Herb Kelleher and Colleen Barrett.
When preparations began for our 25th Anniversary, both our Culture Committee and a separate Headquarters Team began making plans as to how we would recognize the milestone, keeping in mind the importance of the budget for the event (although this was one of the first times that funds were even available for such a function.) The public event would also include some vendors and various longtime friends of the Company. After Colleen combined the efforts of the two committees, she also let them know that she would be personally making a few arrangements, and didn’t share the details with just about anyone, not even Herb.
On the evening of the silver celebration, many details were still a secret. To the surprise of a few Employees on the elevator and in the hallways, Jay Leno walked in. Many thought it was a celebrity look alike and were in shock. Jay performed a standup routine, and afterwards was happy to mix and mingle with the crowd. He also had the opportunity to discuss his passion for cars with Herb, also an enthusiast. Shortly after, most attendees thought that the event was over when Colleen ushered everyone outside to the lawn, where a fireworks display awaited. In yet another surprise, she had arranged for Willie Nelson to perform.
Colleen describes Jay and Willie as being “the easiest big names to work with,” making no outrageous demands or requests that many celebrities often seem to be accustomed to making. Other than a few basic arrangements such as transportation and lodging, all Jay really asked for was a private area from which to prepare.
Also in 1996, Jay’s autobiography Leading with My Chin was published, providing some insight into his earlier years and many of the challenges (such as dyslexia and academic issues) he overcame in order to become “the King of Late Night.” In addition to sharing some fun facts in his book—such as he maintains a massive car collection in a warehouse along the Burbank airport perimeter, not far from where our aircraft still board and deplane using classic airstairs—one also can tell that Jay finds it important not to take oneself too seriously. Kinda like Southwest, don’t you think?