After 17 years and 3,775 episodes, Jay Leno stepped down as host of NBC's Tonight Show Friday night. "You know, this is our last show after 17 years – I want to thank all the people that made it possible – Michael Jackson, Monica Lewinksy, Bill Clinton," he told the cheering audience.
"Seventeen years. Do you realize when I started this show, my hair was black and the president was white. Did you know that?"
He continued: "When we started this show 17 years ago, Jon and Kate were both eight!"
He said he got "nostalgic" driving through the Burbank, Calif., lot for the last time. "We've had the same security guard the whole time, and he said the same thing to me today that he's said for the past 17 years: 'And you are?'" Leno cracked. He also poked fun at his post-Tonight Show plans:"I'm going to be going to a secluded spot where no one can find me" NBC prime time." (Leno has signed on to host a new hour-long comedy show on NBC at the 10 p.m. timeslot in September.)
Kidding aside, Leno said"the hard part" of leaving is looking back on the momentous events of the past 17 years – including 9/11. "When times are serious, you make silly jokes," he said. "When times are silly, you make serious jokes. But you always want to have jokes. That's what we've been trying to do for the last 17 years â€“ make you laugh. And it's been an honor and a privilege to do that."
He thanked his fans, writing staff, Kevin Eubanks and his band, the crew and his wife ("Thank you, honey") for all their support over the years.
On his final show Friday, Leno also officially passed the torch to Conan O'Brien, who will take over hosting duties Monday at a newly built studio at nearby Universal City, Calif. "You were the perfect choice. You've been an absolute gentlemen in private and in the press," Leno told O'Brien, "Conan rocks," a studio audience member screamed. "I agree," Leno replied. "Conan rocks."
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