Jay Leno is used to having people from all walks of life grace his couch. On Friday (Feb. 4), the host of “The Tonight Show” took a turn on the hot seat as a guest of President Drew Faust in Massachusetts Hall.
Leno was on campus to be crowned the Hasty Pudding Theatricals’ 2011 Man of the Year, an honor he now shares with all-star entertainers including Clint Eastwood, Bob Hope, and last year’s winner, Justin Timberlake. It was a homecoming of sorts for the Andover, Mass., native, who got his start in stand-up comedy at the Nameless Coffeehouse on nearby Church Street.
Back in his undergraduate days at theater-centric Emerson College, Leno said, “stand-up was not considered an art form.” It was a bit of a shock, then, to find the late-night guru dropping in on Faust nearly four decades later as part of a campus tour led by Pudding writers DJ Smolinsky ’11 and Gus Hickey ’11. The president and Leno swapped stories of Jimmy Tingle, a fellow comedian who received a degree from the Harvard Kennedy School last year and spoke at Commencement.
“I think we should have a stand-up routine at every Commencement,” Faust told Leno.
“I just wish my mother were here to see that I got into Harvard,” he quipped.
The tour stopped at Widener Library, where Leno viewed the Gutenberg Bible, and in front of the Memorial Church, where the female a cappella group the Radcliffe Pitches serenaded Leno. During the performance of their signature song, Irving Berlin’s “You’d Be Surprised,” Leno pulled lead vocalist Marit Medefind ’12 into a dance.
“And my wallet’s gone!” he announced as their waltz concluded.
Leno’s appointment as Man of the Year was not without controversy. Comedy fans at Harvard have long waited for Hasty Pudding to honor Conan O’Brien, a Harvard College alumnus and former president of the Harvard Lampoon. The choice of Leno over his late-night rival only stoked the fire, and Hasty Pudding producers were on the lookout for an especially devilish Lampoon prank at this year’s events.
While plenty of onlookers stopped to snap photos of Leno or shake his hand, the tour was free of pro-O’Brien demonstrations — until the very end. As Leno stepped into an SUV to depart the Yard, two renegade Lampoon staffers ran up to the University gates.
“This is for you, Leno!” one shouted as he proceeded to smash a pie in his own face.
“You know, your aim is a little off,” Leno responded good-naturedly. “But I appreciate the sentiment.”
After the tour, Leno made his way over to the New College Theatre, where he was scheduled for a slew of interviews before the evening’s events. The night was set to begin at 8, with a roast of Leno by Hasty Pudding producers Nikolus Ray ’11 and Matthew Whitaker ’12 and the awarding of the coveted Pudding Pot, followed by the premiere of Hasty Pudding’s 163rd production, “Kashmir If You Can,” an “eccentric epic” that journeys to “the exotic and erotic land of India.”
This year’s Woman of the Year, actress Julianne Moore, received her Pudding Pot last Thursday (Jan. 27).