Leno attended Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, and graduated in 1973 with a BA in speech therapy. While in school, Leno performed stand-up comedy in local night clubs, and emceed talent shows for extra money. He moved to Los Angeles after graduation, and wrote for the TV show Good Times; a job that fellow late-nighter David Letterman also had. In addition he worked as the warm-up act for Johnny Mathis and Tom Jones.
Leno made his first appearance on The Tonight Show in 1977, and was a regular on the variety show The Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. Show. In the mid-80s, Leno hosted his first comedy special on TV: Jay Leno and the American Dream. Around this same period, he made numerous successful appearances on late-night TV, particularly Late Night with David Letterman. Later that year he signed a deal with NBC that made him one of two permanent guest hosts of The Tonight Show. He became the only guest host two years later.
In 1992, Johnny Carson surprised many by retiring from his long standing role as America’s beloved and premier talk show host. There had been speculation that David Letterman, whose Late Night show followed Carson’s, would take over hosting duties, a position he had publicly coveted. However, NBC picked the more clean-cut Leno, who most considered to be a safer, more middle-America-friendly choice.
In 1993, his contract was extended five years, at $40 million and, two years later, Leno won the Emmy for hosting The Tonight Show. In 1998, he renewed again for another five years, this time at $100 million.
Leno has been married since 1980. They live in Los Angeles, where he spends his spare time working on his collection of classic cars and motorcycles.