IF TONIGHT'S final appearance as host of "The Tonight Show" is weighing on
, he's doing a heck of a job hiding it.
"I'm not really sad because I'm not really leaving. I'm coming right back in a couple of months with a show," said the lantern-jawed comic during a recent phone call to his office at the NBC-TV complex in Burbank, Calif.
To be sure, Leno, who has spent the past 17 years in late-night TV's most prestigious chair, understands the momentousness of the occasion - after all, he's only the fourth host in the show's 55-year history.
But, that doesn't mean he has to be consumed by it as he prepares to figuratively pass the baton to his successor, Conan O'Brien, on tonight's final telecast.
"I'm sort of thinking about the next show," he offered. "There's not a lot of time for introspection. You got a show every night. You have 11 to 14 minutes of jokes to write [for every show]. I'm probably not gonna think about it until the last couple of days."
Leno is legendary in show business circles for his work ethic. Unlike Johnny Carson, he has never employed a guest host to take a break.
And he's not taking any time off to decompress before starting work on his 10 p.m. weeknight series that debuts this fall.
So why is he flying to Atlantic City just hours after his late-night swan song?
"I work every weekend, and I [booked] this gig a year ago," he said. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do."
Another reason this "road warrior" isn't skipping a beat is, he admitted, that he's concerned he might enjoy a vacation a bit too much.
"What if you took a day off and you liked it?" he asked rhetorically. "Then you're screwed."
He added there's a financial component to him being a workaholic: "I've never [spent] a dime of my TV money. So I keep working" live. Perhaps Leno would have been a little less enthusiastic had tomorrow's set been scheduled anywhere else.
But he identified AyCee as a favorite place to play, citing the town's ethnic diversity and the innate warmth of folks from this neck of the woods.
"In other parts of the country," he noted, "people are a little more standoff-ish. [In Atlantic City] everybody wants to give you a hug."
He also suggested that getting out of Los Angeles gives him a perspective that is rare in the show business circles in which he operates. He related an anecdote about an unnamed movie star who once said to him he wouldn't be buying a Ferrari because "everybody" owns one.
"That's what happens when you live here," he lamented. "You get that stupid, jaded sense." Besides, he continued, getting out to the provinces provides him a sense of what Americans consider humorous.
"What's a funny joke in New York or L.A. [can be] a disrespectful or smartass joke" elsewhere, he reasoned.
As for his new program, Leno promised it will incorporate many of his most popular recurring features, like "Headlines" (which showcases typos, poorly positioned headlines and photos and other hilariously silly mistakes found in the nation's print media) and "Jay Walking" (a man-in-the-street feature that highlights just how ill-educated Americans can be). And his writing staff is developing new bits. But, he said, "We'll probably not have as many guests" as "The Tonight Show."
It's well-documented that Carson - whose opinion was never solicited by NBC suits - would have rather seen David Letterman replace him as host of "The Tonight Show." But Leno, is firmly behind the selection of his successor.
"I like Conan," he said. "He's a friend of mine. Everyone agrees he should be the host."
Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa, One Borgata Way, 8 p.m. tomorrow, $85, $75 and $65, (866) 900-4849, www.theborgata.com.
Party with Aykroyd
Resorts Atlantic City is offering five people (and their guests) the chance to get up-close and personal with "Saturday Night Live" icon Dan Aykroyd.
Aykroyd, an original "SNL" cast member and star of such beloved flicks as "Trading Places" and "Ghostbusters," will be at Resorts June 13 to preside over a private bash celebrating Crystal Head Vodka, which is manufactured by Crystal Vodka, which he owns.
To win admission to the soiree you must play slots or table games using a Resorts Destination Card through 7 p.m. on June 13. Each time a player earns a point on his or her card, they'll also receive one entry for the random drawing that will pick the winners.
Those selected will not only get to say howdy to Aykroyd, but will also take home a bottle of his hooch. *