The host thanks Monica Lewinsky, Michael Jackson and Bill Clinton in front of a cheering crowd

By Pamela Warrick
Updated May 29, 2009 08:45 PM
Paul Drinkwater/NBC/AP

Jay Leno left ’em laughing as he performed his final monologue from The Tonight Show stage Friday, taking time to thank those who made his show successful – Monica Lewinsky, Michael Jackson, and Bill Clinton – and to reflect on how much time has passed since he first took over the stage from his mentor Johnny Carson in 1992.

“When we started this show,” Leno told a cheering crowd in the standing-room-only studio in Burbank, “my hair was black and the president was white. When we started the show, Jon and Kate were both eight.”

Before his successor, the younger, taller and visibly more nervous Conan O’Brien, took a seat on the couch next to him, Leno noted that the same security guard who has checked him in for the last 17 years offered the same greeting as he drove a blue Corvette onto the studio lot Friday night: “And you are?”

As for souvenirs, Leno said, “NBC has been nothing but great. [President and CEO of NBC Universal] Jeff Zucker said for $40, I can purchase the robe that’s hanging in my dressing room.”

After Friday’s taping, which marked the 3,775th Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the host said, “I’m going to be going to a secluded spot where no one can find me – NBC prime time.”

In closing, which he called, “the hard part,” Leno reflected on the good and the bad of the last 17 years, including Sept. 11, 2001.

“When times are serious, you make silly jokes. When times are silly, you make serious jokes. But you always want to have jokes,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been trying to do for the last 17 years – make you laugh. And it’s been an honor and a privilege to do that.”

Leno thanked the viewers, his staff of writers, Kevin Eubanks and his band, the crew and his wife, saying simply, “Thank you, honey.”

Leno’s new hour-long comedy show will premiere on NBC at the 10 p.m. timeslot on a date to be announced in September.
from Huffington Post
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