Jay Leno returns after his burn accident

Last month, comedian and former “Tonight Show” host, Jay Leno suffered severe burns to his face and body after an accident in his garage when the car he was working on suddenly erupted into flames.

Leno was treated at the Grossman Burn Center in LA and discharged on Nov. 21. He spoke to the TODAY show about the accident, his treatment, and more.

Dr. Peter Grossman, who treated Leno, said Leno "had significant burns to face and hands"

Doctors scraped away layers of his burned skin, this is a painful procedure. Leno refused pain medication because he said the pain is a good indicator of the magnitude of healing.

Grossman said that Leno is a “very stoic individual" and "not one who wants to complain” adding that Leno was “very gracious” and “very friendly.”

Most celebrities in Leno’s place would use the interview to wallow in self-pity and exaggerate their sufferings for personal self-aggrandizement. 

There would have been copious tears and a choked voice. There would have been a pause during the interview and the voiceover would reveal “reliving the pain was a harrowing experience for Leno, we took a break and he returned in better spirits.’  

There would have been an air of self-importance implying that his pain is more important than that of regular people.

But Leno is from the old school for whom the only way to handle a tough situation is to deal devoid of any fuss. When it is over remember it with self-deprecating humor.

Despite his sufferings, Leno underplayed the accident, reminding his interviewer that anybody who works with their hands on a regular basis is going to have an accident at some point and that accidents such as his occur every day. It is refreshing to see a Hollywood celebrity equate himself with the working class.

He explained the rationale by saying that “there’s nothing worse than whiny celebrities. If you joke about it, people laugh along with you."

When the interviewer began by saying the whole country was concerned when the news of the accident broke, Leno politely brushed that claim aside.

When asked about concerns about his appearance, Leno joked “When you look like me, you don’t really worry about what you look like.”

“Look if I’m George Clooney, it’s going to be a huge problem. …... My attitude is I trust people who are the best to do what they have to do.”

Leno quipped, “The fact that I have smooth skin, pouty lips, and a tighter butt has nothing to do with the accident. That was all secondary.”

Leno also took a jab at high gas prices in California, joking it was ‘the most expensive part of the whole operation was the gasoline.”

During the treatment, Leno revealed he spend eight hours a day in a hyperbaric chamber, which he joked was like a “glass coffin” and that he had to tap on the glass to get attention from the medical staff.

Leno also joked that on his first night performing after the accident, his audience had seemed disappointed that he wasn't more visibly scarred.

“We got two shows tonight," Leno told his audiences "Regular and extra crispy."

When asked if he’s nervous to work on cars now, Leno replied, “Did I learn from this? Of course not!”

Leno received cards and well wishes from celebrities but was most touched, by the notes he received from random people he helped with car trouble.

Compare Leno’s attitude to that of Alec Baldwin.

Baldwin accidentally killed his cinematographer on his movie set. He had orphaned a child and destroyed a family. Yet when was interviewed after the incident Baldwin used all his acting skills to depict himself as the bigger victim than the departed. He shirked off any responsibility and there was no apology. He just didn’t care about anyone but himself.

Leno isn’t just old school in his attitude toward life but also in his comedy.

For him, the goal was laughter. 

In his Tonight Show monologues, Leno joked about both liberals and conservatives in equal measure. These were jokes and not vicious personal attacks, which is why politicians on both sides were eager to chat with Leno.

Leno was particularly effective during the Obama era when slobbering was the norm.

Jon Stewart of The Daily Show lavished blandishments at Obama, despite his misgovernance, and the worst Letterman could say about Obama’s blunders was ‘Is Obama Bushing it up a bit?”

But Leno joked about Obama the same way he joked about previous presidents.

Leno did great interviews with Obama, holding him accountable, unlike journalists of those days who were openly sycophantic.

This explains why Leno led the ratings of Late Shows; his goal was entertainment.

Despite leading in the ratings, in 2004, NBC signed Conan O’Brien to be the next host of The Tonight Show. The transition from Leno to O’Brien was to take place in 2008.

They expected Leno’s rating to sink by 2008 and O’Brien’s ratings to rise, making O’Brien the natural successor. But in 2008, Leno was still on top and O'Brien continued the show with a relatively small audience.

Left with no option, NBC which was eager to retain Leno, gave Leno a primetime comedy show in the format of the late-night show with Conan's Tonight Show following Leno.

They were attempting to fix what wasn’t broken and the results were catastrophic. 

O’Brien’s quirky humor failed and for the first time since Leno’s departure, The Tonight Show fell from the top spot.

NBC attempted to fix things, by giving Leno a 30 minute show in his former Tonight Show slot with O’Brien’s Tonight Show following. O’Brien rejected the proposal.

Hence after around seven months, the shortest-running iteration in the sixty-year history of The Tonight Show, O'Brien departed and Leno returned.

This is how the business works: If you cannot deliver ratings, you are out. O'Brien wasn't exactly left in the rain, he signed a $45 million exit deal with NBC. 

But instead of taking responsibility for the show's failure, O’Brien chose to wallow in self-pity and somehow characterize Leno as the villain.

Late-night hosts Jimmy Kimmel and David Letterman, probably envious of Leno’s ratings, also attacked Leno, and so did others.

Next, Conan did a ‘comedy’ tour where he whined about losing The Tonight Show. Conan’s fans even held protests. 

It was a moment of collective snowflake insanity.

Leno was portrayed as the ogre who destroyed Conan’s dream.

But Leno didn’t attack Conan or any of the others, instead, he focused on his job and brought The Tonight Show back to the Number 1 position where it remained as long as Leno hosted it until Feb. 6, 2014.

Months later, when asked why he remained dignified in his silence during the time, Leno said recently on The Today Show that he didn’t want to be the privileged rich celebrity who was whining about issues that would seem like petty matters to regular people.

The late Queen Elizabeth II once said that her mother advised her to "Never complain, never explain, and speak rarely in public."

It seem Jay Leno also followed that principle.

Image: Screen shot from Today Show video, via YouTube

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