AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Jay Leno was in his element — pacing the stage, running his hand through his hair and launching joke after joke.
It was something he had done in clubs and other venues thousands of times before.
But this was no ordinary show for the Tonight Show host.
After entertaining the crowd, Leno asked that the house lights be brought up and he spoke not as a comic, but as a concerned citizen and a friend.
“It’s been a privilege to come here and talk to you,” he said.
Those words ended Leno’s gig Tuesday night at The Palace of Auburn Hills, which he put on at no cost to the capacity crowd. Tickets and parking were free.
The NBC late-night star, whose love of autos has brought him to Detroit from time to time, said he wanted to do some good for an area struggling with a high jobless rate and imploding auto industry. Michigan’s unemployment rate was at 12 per cent in February, the highest in the nation.
“These are the hardest-working people in the world, and I think they’re getting screwed,” Leno told reporters before the show. “And it doesn’t seem fair.”
He initially only planned a single show, but heavy demand prompted organizers to add a Wednesday night performance of what was being billed as “Jay’s Comedy Stimulus Plan.” In all, there will be 30,000 tickets distributed.
The NBA’s Detroit Pistons donated their home for the event.
A surprise guest introduced Leno, Detroit’s own Kid Rock, whose appearance on stage elicited a loud response from the Palace crowd.