C.J.: 'Tonight Show' host Jay Leno's 'people' are a no-show at Pacer gala

  • Article by: C.J. , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 14, 2013 - 2:03 PM

“Tonight Show” host Jay Leno didn’t bring any “people” with him Saturday when he was the headliner at the 31st annual Pacer Center gala.

At least that was what he claimed when I asked where his “person” was backstage after his performance at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

I had brought Leno his favorite food from Market Bar-B-Que. I wanted to pass off the package so I could concentrate on taking pictures and my startribune.com/video while he shook hands at the meet-and-greet.

“I don’t have a ‘person,’ ” said Leno, who might have said “I don’t have people” — I can’t remember which word I used, but he repeated it.

You can tell a lot about a celebrity based on how many “people” they have. “American Idol” winner Jordin Sparks came to town with 12 when she was promoting a movie that didn’t exactly “Sparkle” at the box office.

Since Leno had no “person,” a Pacer staffer took the ribs and chicken back to Leno’s dressing room, where he reportedly ate the meal after he finished this P.R. work.

The staffer said I had solved a problem by bringing food. Leno arrived at the show saying he didn’t want to eat (which is standard for performers). After the show, however, I was told that Leno said he was hungry, and by then the only food around was probably the desserts for the Pacer after-party. Since one of Leno’s riffs in his act is about how fat and lazy Americans have grown, it’s doubtful that he’d want sweets that late at night.

A long time ago Leno became a big enough fan of Market BBQ that owner Steven Polski and his son and owner-in-waiting Anthony Polski always make sure he gets his ribs and chicken dinner when he’s in town. I accompanied the Polskis to the Minneapolis Convention Center garage a few years ago when they made a delivery to Leno when he was performing.

Anthony called L.A. to prearrange a delivery to the Convention Center, but Leno’s assistant said that might not be possible.

When I stopped by Market a couple of hours before Leno’s show and learned that he had not made arrangements to come in, Anthony asked me if I would take some food to Leno. The food was still warm.

After the show, I again stopped by Market to see if Leno had dropped by on his way out of town to thank them. He had not, but Monday Leno called to say, Anthony, I’ve said it a million times: You guys have the best ribs and chicken in the world.

During that trip to Market, I happened upon others from the world of comedy having a late-night meal: Lizz Winstead, Frank Conniff and Brian Unger. Winstead’s brother, Bloomington Mayor Gene Winstead, and other family members were there, too. When I expressed mild surprise to Lizz that Jay Leno claimed not to roll with an entourage, she told me she didn’t believe in having “people” either. “ ‘People’ get in the way,” she said. “They also define you.”

Leno knows something about that, as in the early 1990s NBC fired his former manager, friend and “Tonight Show” exec producer who was creating all kinds of image problems.

Winstead’s 30th

As expected, Lizz Winstead was none too happy with the Vikings for booting kicker Chris Kluwe, her fellow gay-marriage-rights proponent.

“I think the Vikings suck for doing this,” the co-creator of Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” said Saturday when she celebrated her 30th year in comedy at the Woman’s Club. “I’m sure it had nothing to do with him being a guy who cares about people,” Winstead remarked as a member of the audience asked the question: “Who are the Vikings?”

“Exactly!” said Winstead as the audience applauded. “I don’t know, apparently a bunch of homophobes,” she cracked.

Winstead, who lives in NYC, returned to her hometown to celebrate her milestone in the city where it all began. She did it with an evening of comedy, reading from her book, “Lizz Free or Die,” and letting her friends and family tell tales out of school about her. Among the friends were “Mystery Science Theater” cult figure Frank Conniff and actor Brian Unger.

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