For HD’s 90th Anniversary celebration in Milwaukee, we were lucky to have Jay Leno agree to emcee our main-stage event. I should add that, as this was a major fundraiser for The Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), Jay didn’t charge us one cent for his participation. An A-list celebrity who doesn’t charge for appearances or make you jump through hoops is very, very rare. Jay’s the real deal. Can’t say enough positive about him.
When we spoke over the phone a few days before the event, he told me that he didn’t want to do a slew of media interviews because he didn’t want to be the center of attention (see what I mean?) and also because he wanted free time to ride around and enjoy the day in Milwaukee with his wonderful wife, Mavis. Because I knew dozens of media outlets from around the world would be requesting interviews, I asked which I should agree to. He said he’d do the local NBC channel and the MDA telethon affiliate, of course, but that I could select any other outlets I wanted. But just a few. So I thought, CNN? BBC? Telemundo? Who could I offend? To be fair to everybody, I decided I’d only allow one private interview.
I was a big fan of a very small, very low budget feature program called, “Discover Wisconsin” that was funded by Wisconsin-based companies, intended to encourage tourism in our state. I always held funds in my budget to help sponsor the show and I was good friends with the hosts and producers , small town guys who loved to fish, hunt and ride snowmobiles -- my kind of guys. I called my pal Mark at DW and said, “How would you guys like to be the only media outlet other than NBC to have an interview with Jay Leno on Saturday?” I thought he was gonna wet his pants.
At the event on Saturday, Jay ran the gauntlet of TV cameras, then asked what I’d committed him to other than NBC and the MDA channel. I said, “Discover Wisconsin.” When I told him it was a show that heavily featured fishing and tourism and that this would be the biggest coup they’d ever had, he let out a big laugh and said, “Oh boy! I hope I can handle it.” (Note: Suffice to say the other national and international media in attendance at the event weren’t too happy with me. Hee hee. But they calmed themselves with massive quantities of free food and beer. Bingo!).
Time for the DW interview. I have the crew (three guys – a cameraman, a sound man and Dick Rose, the host) set up in a somewhat private area and, when they were ready to go – Dick was so excited he was sweating – I brought Jay out. After quick introductions, Jay said he knew absolutely nothing about hunting, fishing and camping but Dick said don’t worry, he was just gonna ask some questions about motorcycling. Then just as the camera light came on, Dick looked at Jay and said one of the most unintentionally funny lines I’d ever heard: “OK, Jay. Now just relax and act natural.” This made Jay laugh so hard he couldn’t recover and every time the light came back on he started laughing again. Dick and his crew couldn’t figure what was so funny about giving a very basic stage direction to one of the most famous tv personalities on the planet.
That evening, I was being interviewed live for a local news program and Jay stood behind the cameraman and mouthed, “Relax and act natural.” I had a slight giggle fit on TV. People still tell me they saw me cracking up on the news (and assume I must’ve been trashed).