Comedian Jay Leno Tries to Use Laughter as a Balm for Economic Problems

By Associated Press
Monday, May 11, 2009

WILMINGTON, Ohio, May 10 -- Comedian Jay Leno gave a little comic relief Sunday to residents of an area battered by layoffs and the fear of long-term unemployment.

Hundreds of people waited in lines for hours for a free performance by the "Tonight Show" host as part of his Comedy Stimulus Tour.

"I don't think Jay Leno can do anything about our local economy or the situation here, but at least he empathizes with us," said John Porter, a Wilmington resident. "He realizes there is something big going on here, and it could get a lot bigger."

Leno, who also has performed free comedy concerts in the recession-racked Detroit area, spent 75 minutes delivering jokes at the Roberts Centre. He drew cheers from the crowd as he wrapped up the afternoon show, the first of two that were scheduled, saying he was just trying to get some laughs and cheer people up.

"We're all brothers and sisters," he said.

Leno's performance drew rave reviews from audience members.

"I really appreciate Jay coming. This was fabulous, absolutely fabulous," said Lora Walker, who was laid off from her job in December. "It's keeping the positive attitude. You have to stay positive and look at the bright side of everything that's happening. If you sit around all gloom and doom, you're not going to move forward."

Leno made no specific mention of Wilmington and local layoffs during the show. He quickly launched into his stand-up routine, joking at a machine-gun clip about President Obama, marriage, movies, family and other topics.

During an interview between shows, Leno said he visited Wilmington because he knew the area has suffered an economic blow, and many people didn't have the money for entertainment.

"I'm not here to explain the economic situation. Everybody knows what that is," the NBC star said. "This is like escapism. You just kind of get out and forget your troubles for an hour and a half and have a few laughs."

He added that when people are in trouble, he tries to lend a helping hand: "I think people like to know that somebody else cares about your situation, your problem."

Wilmington, a city of about 12,000 residents, has drawn national attention as a vivid example of the economic struggles of small U.S. communities during the recession. The main presidential candidates discussed its plight last year.

About 8,000 workers were employed at the Wilmington Air Park a year ago when delivery company DHL Express announced it was pulling out, and about 3,500 remain. Wilmington Mayor David Raizk (pronounced "resk") says at least half of them will lose their jobs when DHL leaves this summer.

"We've had enough doom and gloom. It's time for a little laughter and a little fun," said Raizk, who was among those waiting for the Leno shows. "We're so thankful to Jay Leno and his people for doing this. Let's uplift everybody's spirits a little bit and talk about the positive instead of the negative."

Four thousand free tickets were distributed for the first Wilmington show. The lines snaked out into the parking lot.

Joshua Eyerman and his wife were at the front of one line, waiting four hours to get front-row seats. The couple have a 3-month-old son and recently moved in with Eyerman's mother-in-law to save money. Eyerman expects to be laid off from his job at the air park this summer, so he's been searching for work when he can.

"It's very hard to look for a job in Wilmington. There's really nothing open," he said. "I'm still searching, trying to bring some money home for our son."

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