It is 4 p.m. in L.A. We are in our dressing room at the Tonight Show. OUR dressing room. It has our names on the door. We have our orange badges that say “Tonight Show Backstage Pass.” Our dressing room is well-stocked with beverages, cheese, fruit and bread.
Then, unannounced, Jay Leno darts into our room. “Hey, guys!” he greets us, shaking our hands. In his best jovial Jay Leno voice, he says, “Welcome to the show. We’re gonna do some goofy, fun stuff. Just goofy stuff!”
We smile idiotically. Just as quickly as he arrived, he is gone.
Kobi and I stare at each other. We are slack-jawed and slowly shaking our heads. “How did we get here?” we ask each other at the same time.
My wife, Kobi Shaw, and I are entertainers. Most of the time we are jugglers, but we have lots of tricks up our sleeves, so to speak. Our 2006 appearance with Jay Leno featured a novelty piece in which we whack each other’s heads with colorful plastic tubes, creating a tune that resembles Rossini’s “William Tell Overture.” This is our claim to fame. Go figure!
We had a 25-year plan for getting on the show. It went something like this:
1981 — Start thinking and wishing.
April 13, 2006 — Send the tape.
April 18, 2006 — Answer the phone and say “yes” when the Tonight Show calls.
I was home alone with our two young sons when the phone call came. Frankly, the boys were driving me nuts, so I just sat them down to watch “Arthur” on PBS. The phone rang, so I moved away from the TV a little.
The voice on the phone said, “Hello. This is Steve Ridgeway. I am a producer from the Tonight Show.”
I moved farther away from the TV.
What was said next? I’m not exactly sure. I do not remember.
Eventually, there was something like, “We are very interested in having you two on the show,” from Ridgeway. And there was some nonsense such as, “Would you be interested in flying out to L.A.?”
Ridgeway gives me his e-mail address and phone number. I reach for some paper and a handy writing implement. Now I have the Tonight Show contact information written in crayon on a piece of construction paper.
They offer to pay all of our expenses for the trip: airfare, meals, hotel stay and limo. We accept.
We were both zonked out on the flight. The past weeks of preparations, photo sessions and media interviews have exhausted us. Oh, the curse of celebrity!
Our limo brings us to the Sheraton Universal Hotel. As we check in, I turn to Kobi and say, “OK, I have to tell you. I made all of this up. I had someone call and pretend to be from the Tonight Show…”
She tells me to stop talking.
If not for the sheer exhaustion of the 12-hour trip, we wouldn’t have been able to sleep that night. We both collapse into a deep sleep.
At 12:30 p.m. on May 18, our limo drives us through the gates of NBC Studios and parks at the Artist’s Entrance. Apparently, we are artists now. As we exit our limo, we are met by 4 or 5 young ladies who are just stepping off the outdoor concert stage. Even though we are now, in some strange way, peers, the Pussycat Dolls pay us no mind.
The staff and crew of the Tonight Show are wonderful to us. They really make us feel comfortable and at home on the set. At home! This assumes that 6 million people watch our home every night. Luckily, the studio theater is smaller than it seems on TV. It has a friendly, familiar feel.
We go through our routine a couple of times so the camera, light and sound crews can see what we are planning to do. Then, there is nothing to do but wait for the show to begin.
At 4:30 p.m., our new best friend, Jay, starts his monologue. The audience is made up entirely of military personnel. They are a lively crowd.
The jokes end and the commercials begin. This is our cue to get ready.
We are appearing as part of a bit called “Does this Impress Ed Asner?” Three “acts” have been invited on the show. There is a teenager from Texas who plays “Yankee Doodle” on his armpit and a Canadian government worker who juggles machetes on a moving platform. We are slated to be the last act performing.
Suddenly, we are on the set of the Tonight Show! Jay Leno and Ed Asner are asking us questions! It feels a bit odd to have our backs to some of the studio audience, but the director wants us to perform for the two celebrities and not the people in the seats.
We do our thing. It is a bit surreal, but a lot of fun.
The piece ends with a bang. Ed Asner gives a little shout of approval. The audience applauds wildly. It seems to have gone well. Just one burning question: Did it impress Ed Asner? In his words, “I am very impressed!”
As the camera sweeps back to go to the commercial, you can see Jay and Ed walking over to us. There were handshakes and compliments all around. They both pick up our tubes and start trying them out.
I pull out a marker from my pocket and ask Jay for his autograph. My hands are shaking too badly to put the cap back on. Jay and Ed both sign the hardhats we use in the routine.
After the taping, we are told that Jay will not be able to pose for pictures, due to the fact that he had to hurry to get to his show in Las Vegas. We are a little disappointed.
Then, word comes down that he is still in the building and is making his way back to the studio for the photos. What a nice guy!
Later that night the two of us watch ourselves on a hotel television. It still doesn’t seem real. Only when we get home on Saturday evening and watch the tape from our own VCR on our own TV does it start to sink in. We were on the Tonight Show!
And we loved every minute of it.