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Thursday, Feb. 5, 2004 03:21 pm

Grace about town 2-5-04

Grace about town

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Vol. 1: Jay Leno Called Me on My Phone

My original intent in going to LA wasn't to stalk Jay Leno; it hadn't even crossed my mind. I usually try to refrain from stalking anybody. All I wanted was 11 fun-filled days of warm weather. The highlight was to be a weekend stay in Hermosa Beach, 35 minutes south of LA. I adore the beach. And I really wanted to see Jay Leno's comedy act; he performs almost every Sunday night at the Hermosa Comedy & Magic Club. I always wanted to see him when I lived in LA, but I couldn't afford it.

I got tickets to the show, and a friend said, "Why don't you interview Jay while you're there?" This seemed like a fabulous idea. I called his publicist and talked to his assistant, Rachelle, who was very nice, but told me Jay roars into Hermosa right before the show and then roars away again. Sorry, no time for an interview.

Luckily, my friend Paul is a stand-up comic who lives in LA, performs at the club and is friends with the owner. He said the owner thought Jay would probably do the interview if he knew the details beforehand. So I called Rachelle again, even though calling people is one of the things I hate most in life, especially if I know they don't want to hear from me, and she reiterated the rushing-in-rushing-out scenario.

Meanwhile, I got Jay's autobiography, Leading With My Chin, from the Lincoln Library and read it on the flight to LA. It was highly entertaining and Jay seemed quite down-to-earth and friendly. It also made me rethink my New Year's resolution to seriously pursue stand-up comedy; Jay's years on the comedy circuit sounded grueling.

I faxed my interview request to the publicist, along with a column of mine, to show Jay that my intentions were honorable and I wasn't out to destroy his reputation in central Illinois. I composed another letter to Jay himself.

Saturday night, I dropped the letter off at the club, hoping somebody would give it to Jay. Nobody there seemed interested in that at all; the owner couldn't be found, and though I did leave it, I felt Jay definitely wouldn't do the interview.

We went to the show Sunday night and I asked our waitress if I could talk to the owner. She said she'd send him over, but she didn't. I didn't press it (I'm sure you've read that Springfield is the second most polite city in the country?).

The show started, and Jay was every bit as charming in person as on TV. Early in the show, he talked to me! He asked if anybody had cats, and when I raised my hand, he asked how many, I said two, and he asked if I'm a single woman. I said yes, he made a joke about single women having cats, and it got a big laugh. Clearly, there was a connection, even though he didn't want to speak to me privately.

Later in the act I wanted to give him a Springfield T-shirt I'd brought, but right when I had the chance, a strange fellow in a fluffy white coat started railing on about how he had a cable TV show, and he gave Jay a big packet of stuff. Jay graciously deflected the guy's pressing need to be heard, but when he finally settled down, I had no desire to offer him the T-shirt.

We left quickly after the show and headed for a bar, where I complained about the impossibility of actually making contact with Jay; he appeared to be so open and friendly, but was clearly inaccessible.

A couple of hours later we got back to the hotel and I checked my cell phone messages. There was only one. The voice said, "Hi, Grace, it's Jay Leno. I didn't see you at the club. Sorry I missed ya. Uh . . . OK. Um . . . well, I missed ya. OK."

I stared at the phone in stunned silence. I listened to the message over and over again. I made my friends listen, over and over again. This was Jay Leno. It was JAY LENO.

JAY LENO LEFT ME A MESSAGE.

ON MY PHONE.

There was quite a bit of hysteria for a while, mostly from me. Jay had called from the club and was long gone by the time I called back, but it didn't matter. Jay called me! I tried to sleep, and by the time I finally dozed off, I was convinced that not only would Jay let me interview him, but he'd meet me and (of course) want me on the Tonight Show, and further, he'd want me to write for him and he'd been secretly divorced from his wife and wanted to date me.

I am deeply sorry to say that none of this happened. I tried to call him on Monday, but it was impossible to get through. I gave up. But then, late Monday night, I thought, what if I went back to the club next Sunday? Would the club owner yell at me? Would Jay refuse to talk to me, since I'm clearly the most inept news personality to attempt an interview? I'd have to extend my stay, but I heard it was two degrees in Springfield, so I figured a few more days of trying couldn't hurt. Worst case, I'd be left with Jay's message, which I'll save forever on my cell phone.

Stay tuned.

Hear the phone call for yourself! Click here.

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