FORT CARSON, Colo. – Late-night talk show host Jay Leno let loose a series of stand-up comedy bits July 9, seizing his military audience with laughter.
“My abs are hurting right now; this is better than any [physical training] test,” said Pfc. Thomas Greiner, 4th Engineer Battalion, who sat near the front row during Leno’s monologue, which revealed humor in news headlines and everyday ironies for more than an hour.
“These people give their careers and everything for their country,” said Leno, prior to heading on stage. “So, coming and telling jokes, believe me, is an honor.” About 1,500 guests funneled into the Special Events Center, where they squeezed into bleachers and grabbed foldout chairs.
The award-winning comedian is widely known as the host of NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” a program that presents entertaining segments and celebrity interviews. He succeeded Johnny Carson in 1992, and then won a primetime Emmy award in 1995.
Throughout his nearly 20 years with the top-rated program, Leno never stopped touring, he said. The comedian still averages more than 150 gigs per year, according to his show’s official NBC website.
“We were just up in Alaska, and we’re going to Texas in a couple weeks,” said Leno, about his current travels with the Air Force Reserve’s Tour for the Troops. Leno has a lot of family in the military, including three “West Pointers” and his brother is a Vietnam veteran.
“I wasn’t in the Army … since I didn’t actually serve, maybe I can do this instead,” he said, discussing his reasons for bringing stand-up comedy to military installations.
A collection of “welcome home” signs and banners covered the walls and ceiling inside the Special Events Center. Nearly 4,000 war fighters had returned during the past two months. Almost 300 soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, redeployed from Afghanistan the same day Leno performed.The supply of free tickets quickly depleted June 23, leaving many service members hoping for space-available admission. Greiner gained last-minute access with Spc. Peter Ziehli, 4th Eng. Bn. The soldiers said an opportunity to watch Leno live at Fort Carson was something they never expected.
“There was a lot of crowd stuff you cannot hear on television,” said Greiner. “Everyone putting in their two cents and the roar of everyone laughing, it was awesome.”
“It’s fun to tell jokes — it’s what I like to do — and you’re a great audience,” said Leno, wrapping up his show at Fort Carson. “To be able to come here and have some fun with you guys, life is hell and you guys have been through it all … God bless you and thank you for everything.”