Written By: Mark Shelton
November 25, 2019
Last night, I took David Dennis, Paul Wayne and his lovely lady Jeannie Douglas to see Jay Leno at the Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, California. David and I came up to see the same show about a year prior and we were blown away at how funny it was. When David introduced me to Paul and Jeannie in this last year, I knew Jay’s show was something they needed to see, and last night, the stars aligned and we made it happen. It was a complete surprise to Paul and Jeannie, and I made sure David knew not to spill the beans about where we were going, which just added to the excitement as it drove them crazy trying to guess.
Back Story: Paul Wayne has been performing standup comedy and singing/playing music for audiences across the country for more than 40 years. He’s a true professional who has performed at some incredibly large venues and played with a variety of very big names, such as: Joan Rivers, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Harry Belafonte, Reba McEntire, Patti LaBelle, Kris Kristofferson, Mariah Carey, Gloria Estefan, Wayne Newton, Celine Dion… it’s just going to be relentless name throwing at this point, BUT, would you believe he also performed with Jay Leno?
While sitting in the audience before the show started, Paul said, “So who is playing tonight?” Shocked that they hadn’t even figured it out yet, I turned over our dinner menu to reveal Jay Leno’s face.
They were both thrilled, but then admitted they had a hunch it was Jay, but didn’t want to spoil my excitement for trying to surprise them. Jeannie also joked that on our way up to the show, she was going to say to me, “Wow, I don’t care where we are going, as long as we don’t have to go see Jay Leno” – just so they could watch me squirm in my front seat, but they are too kind to do that to me. I would have been so bummed.
Paul took out one of his business cards and wrote a note to Jay saying, ‘Hi Jay, I opened for you a couple times in Boston back in the day. Excited to see you tonight. Have a great show, Paul Wayne.’ He walked his card up to the front door staff and asked if one of them would please give it to Jay.
The show promptly began at 7 p.m. and the opening comics hit the ground running. Their jokes, timing, setups, punch lines, callbacks and segues were all brilliantly honed. Jim McDonald, the opener, was really funny and charming as always. I’ve watched Jim’s success for over 30 years since we worked together at the Irvine Improv back in the late 80’s when I was a waiter and he was a fledgling comic. You know, the good old days?
Jimmy Brogan, the middleman, was the very FIRST comic I had ever seen in a live Comedy Show (circa 1982). I had just turned 18 and went to the Comedy Store in Los Angeles by myself and snuck in the back door with some of the other comics who smuggled me in. I just sat with them in awe watching a bunch of upcoming/now famous comedians deliver their jokes and getting laughs. I truly believe this is where my comedy seed and desire to perform was planted. But this story is about Paul…
After Jim and Jimmy knocked it out of the park, Jay Leno took the stage. The crowd roared with excitement and it was incredible for all of us to watch a master perfectly perform his craft. Every joke was funny and Jay’s timing, rhythm and sense of continuity were stellar, as all his jokes wove into an extremely entertaining set. Jay could actually perform his entire set backwards and it would be equally as funny. He’s truly one of the comedy greats.
After Jay left the stage, Jim McDonald came back up for some comedic announcements about the club, which took about 5 minutes, but during this time, Paul’s phone rang. It was from a RESTRICTED number and Paul knew it was Jay Leno calling, but he also knew not to talk on his phone during the show. Professional courtesy at its finest.
We exited the club and talked to Jim, who was standing out in front of the club promoting his website and future shows. Jim remembered me from way back in our early days and I introduced him to our little gang.
Paul told Jim all about how he performed up and down the East Coast for over 40 years and how he had also opened for Jay on a few occasions back in the day. Paul shared this picture of the two of them and Jim was very gracious and encouraging. They all laughed and continued to joke with each other as I departed and walked up to the roof to get my car to take them home.
Upon arriving back at the entrance to the Comedy and Magic Club, we all said our goodbyes to Jim and headed back to Orange County, laughing at all the funny stories and jokes we could remember from the night. Everything was funny.
We all attempted to retell our favorite jokes on the way home and even managed to squeeze a few more chuckles out of the evening. I haven’t laughed to tears in long time and this night was so very needed by all us. Laughter truly is the best medicine.
About 15 minutes down the road, I glanced over at Paul, who was staring down at his phone, just looking at the RESTRICTED CALL message left on his screen.
“Jay Leno?” I whispered. “Yeah,” he sighed, “I wanted so bad to answer, but the show was going on and we all know that’s a No-No.” Reassuringly, I answered, “It’s all good buddy, don’t worry… Jay will call you back.”
Another 15 minutes later, as we arrived home to Paul and Jeannie’s neighborhood, THE PHONE RANG and it was once again from the RESTRICTED NUMBER. We all started screaming and shaking Paul, “That’s Jay… pick it up… pick it up.” I slowed the car to a crawl as Paul frantically searched for the speakerphone button in the dark. He hit it and said, “Hello?”
“Hey Paul, It’s Jay Leno…” We were all paralyzed and hanging onto each other, squeezing each other’s arms. I don’t think any of us took a breath the entire time, except for Paul.
PAUL: “Hey Jay, thanks for calling me back. That was such a funny show and all of you guys are great.”
JAY: “Thanks a lot… yeah, I really love that room. It’s so much better than the Hollywood scene where everyone’s doing all the blue material and stuff… It’s just so much more pleasurable to play there.”
PAUL: “We were talking to Jim outside the club and I showed him a black and white picture of you and me from way back when I opened for you…”
JAY: “Yeah, sorry, I had take off and get on plane to come back and finish some work, but I wanted to reach out and say Hi and thank you all for coming to the show… and by the way, when was that? It was the East Coast, back in the 80’s or 90’s, right?”
PAUL: “Yeah, it was back in the days when both of us had black hair.”
Jay laughed along with the rest of us and the conversation ended shortly thereafter.
I stopped my car in the middle of the street. Anyone standing outside watching would have thought a murder was happening inside, because all of us started screaming and yelling, laughing and hugging each other. The car rocked back and forth, filled with OUR BLISSFUL JOY. It was a real magical moment in time that we all got to share. I wish everyone could experience a moment like this.
Slightly more incredible is that we all got to witness a very kind gesture from a very benevolent Jay Leno, who, in is his busy scheduled life, took the time to reach out to Paul Wayne and remind him that HE MATTERS. I don’t think life gets much better than that, or at least I hope it doesn’t.