Jay Leno back on stage barely two weeks after burn incident

Jay Leno next to signed wall
Aaron Robinson

Jay Leno hates to be idle. Just over two weeks since he suffered third-degree burns in his garage, requiring doctors to cut away much of the skin on both sides of his face, the comedian was back on stage at his regular haunt, The Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, California. “So tonight we have two shows—regular and extra crispy,” he joked to a packed house that had already been warmed up by longtime friends Arsenio Hall and Jimmy Brogan.

A crowd of local news reporters and paparazzi had waited for Leno to arrive at the club for his regular Sunday night show, which he has been performing at the Hermosa Beach fixture since the 1990s. The local police were there as well to keep order, having parked a black-and-white Jeep Wrangler in Leno’s traditional reserved spot in front of the club. It caused a minor embarrassment when Leno accidentally sideswiped one of the Jeep’s tires while trying to maneuver his Tesla around it. “Hey, at least people care,” he said backstage after threading his way through the thronging crowd with his wife Mavis.

Leno was under his 1907 White steam car on November 12, working to unclog a fuel line, when a spray of flaming gasoline rained down on him. “I saw it coming and I closed my eyes,” he recounted to me before going on stage. “I could feel it burning, and I said, Dave, I’m on fire.” Quick action by employees at the garage to smother the fire helped save Leno’s eyes and ears and, ultimately, his life.

When asked if the ordeal has been painful, Leno assured us “it’s not that bad.”

He shared a few pictures from his phone which can’t be published here. They show the bloodied and scalded mass that was his face when he arrived at the Grossman Burn Center in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles. The fuel burned his hands as well, and they remained scabbed and raw two weeks later. His face, however, looked almost as before.

“It’s all new, everything,” he said of his extensive skin grafts and plastic surgery. “Hey, I’m the new face of comedy!” Then he turned back to his friends in the club’s green room and shouted, “I’m not an animal, I’m a human being!” (In case you don’t know the ref, it’s a line from The Elephant Man.)

The crowd gave Leno a standing ovation, no doubt many surprised by how normal he appeared despite the grim tabloid headlines. Before launching into his regular set, he made a couple of jokes about his accident. “I’ve never really thought of myself as a roast comedian,” he quipped to laughs. “Actually, the most expensive part of the whole thing was the gasoline.”

Jay Leno backstage
Aaron Robinson

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    Mensch with a wrench.
    Have to say, this will set back the “gasoline-powered steam car community” considerably, though.
    We might end up having to go with the battery-electric steamer instead. For, you know, safety and all.

    Jay, thank you for being such an awesome ambassador to our sport both 2 and 4 wheeled for so long, and not a bad comedian to boot..:-)..All the best to you, always….

    Damn Jay! What the hell were you doing underneath the car unclogging a fuel filter. Isn’t there someone that could handle that situation for you. Thank God you’re okay..

    I got real sad when I heard about your accident, I am praying for your recovery. I kept thinking I hope your cars are okay, they must have really missed you 🙂

    Hope you weren’t doing that start up trick from the old days, pouring gas into the carb and some one says give it a little more it almost kicked over, then PUFF!!! Been there done that, I know you know better, wish you the best!

    Lookin good jay, I just finished putting updated fuel/vent lines on a 2008 HHR and I was thinking about your accident during the repair

    Riding from Detroit, I had the exact same accident happen to me riding my ’03 Bonneville at 11:30 in the evening in the middle of nowheresville TN outside of Kingsport, attempting to turn around in a boarded up old gas station on hwy 11 (Robert E Lee Hwy). Fortunately, though it knocked my off bike, I only had minor injuries, but I had to pick the bike up on my own up hill, which was a PITA! There ought to be a law about stringing a wire like that without warning flags! Hopefully, Jay (and the bike) will recover totally.

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