Jay Leno Offers a Glimmer of (Bob) Hope

Bob Hope remains a beloved figure in many circles thanks not only for his wit, but his devotion to entertaining U.S. troops overseas.

Now Jay Leno, in some respects a throwback to Hope’s style of humor, is carving out a reputation for giving casualties of the economic war at home a much-needed boost.

The soon-to-be-former “Tonight Show” host announced this week that he plans to perform a free show in Wilmington, Ohio, which is losing thousands of jobs because a DHL Express shipping hub is leaving town. The May 10 gig will come about a month after Leno mounted two of his “Comedy Stimulus” shows for the jobless in Detroit, home to the crumbling auto industry.

We can all use a few free chuckles. Entertainment provides a welcome escape during tough times – it’s no coincidence that movie box office take is up 16 percent so far this year, even with belts tightening in too many households.

The White House recognized the value of diversion during the Great Depression, pouring Works Progress Administration funds into the arts, not only to keep the artists going, but to help give the public a respite from harsh reality.

Now, Jay Leno isn’t Bob Hope -- and as bad as the economy may get, the deprivations will never compare to risking lives on a battlefield.

But Leno’s goodwill gesture won’t be forgotten by those he’s entertained as they struggle to rebuild their lives. No matter how the critics rank him in TV history – never measuring up to Johnny Carson or edgier rival David Letterman – part of Leno’s legacy, as he heads for prime time, will be rising to do free stand up for folks who really needed a laugh.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.

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