WILMINGTON, Ohio — Comedian Jay Leno gave a little comic relief Sunday to residents of an area battered by layoffs and the fear of long-term unemployment.
Hundreds of people waited in lines for hours for a free comedy performance by the host of The Tonight Show as part of his Comedy Stimulus tour.
“It will give people a lift when they all need a good laugh,” said Pauline Taylor, who was at the head of one of several lines leading into the Roberts Centre before the first of two shows kicked off Sunday afternoon. “We all need to have laughs. It helps get you through the tough times. It really does.”
Leno’s first jokes were about politics and President Barack Obama.
Wilmington, a city of about 12,000 residents, has drawn national attention as a vivid example of the economic struggles of small U.S. communities during the recession. The main presidential candidates discussed its plight last year.
About 8,000 workers were employed at the Wilmington Air Park a year ago when delivery company DHL Express announced it was pulling out, and about 3,500 remain. Wilmington Mayor David Raizk says at least half of them will lose their jobs when DHL leaves this summer.
“We’ve had enough doom and gloom. It’s time for a little laughter and a little fun,” said Raizk, who was among those waiting for the Leno shows. “We’re so thankful to Jay Leno and his people for doing this. Let’s uplift everybody’s spirits a little bit and talk about the positive instead of the negative.”
Leno also has performed free comedy concerts in the recession-wracked Detroit area.
People waited in line for hours to get good seats for the first Wilmington show. Four thousand free tickets were distributed.
The lines snaked out into the parking lot. People, a few in wheelchairs, sipped soft drinks, chatted with each other and enjoyed the sunny skies.
Joshua Eyerman and his wife were at the front of one line, waiting four hours to get front-row seats.
The couple have a three-month-old son and recently moved in with her mother to save money. Eyerman expects to be laid off from his job at the air park this summer, so he’s been searching for work when he can.
“It’s very hard to look for a job in Wilmington. There’s really nothing really open,” Eyerman said. “I’m still searching, trying to bring some money home for our son.”
Taylor, of Wilmington, had worked for nearly nine years for ABX Air as a sorter and for predecessor Airborne Express when she was laid off in February. She works part time as a housekeeper but has to pay more for medical coverage.
“It was very hard. I had planned to be there as long as they needed me,” she said of being laid off. “It was very worrisome. I’m a widow supporting myself, so the income I’m losing is good money.”
Taylor said she’s cutting back to save money.
“When I come home I don’t go back and forth to shop. I don’t go to the mall,” she said.