AVIANO AB, Italy — Jay Leno's nearly hourlong monologue picked up the spirits of more than 2,000 fans, many of them Bosnia-bound troops, Saturday night at Aviano, but left the comedian visibly exhausted by the end of the USO-sponsored show.
Leno had planned to do a "Jaywalk" for several hours following the free show, but was forced to cancel visits to shift workers who couldn't make it to the event in the cavernous Hangar One.
The show, scheduled to run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., lasted until 10 p.m., and Leno and fellow troupers spent considerable time greeting fans and signing autographs afterward.
Although Leno had planned to visit such places as the fire department and the passenger terminal, he only managed to squeeze in a post-show visit to the integrated planning cell for Operation Deny Flight before calling it a night.
The host of The Tonight Show arrived at Aviano late Saturday afternoon after a nonstop flight from Edwards AFB, Calif, aboard a government plane.
The 40-piece U.S. Air Forces in Europe concert band led off the show with Christmas favorites before being joined by singer-entertainer Gary Morris, who turned out to be quite a comedian as he regaled the crowd with wild tales about what supposedly happened earlier in the day when he took a familiarization ride aboard an Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Morris, known mostly as a country singer, blew the audience away with his rendition of the ballad Bring Him Home from the musical Les Miserables, in which he starred on Broadway.
A surprise band leader — and an amusingly good one — was Col. Charles F. Wald, commander of the 31st Fighter Wing, who led the USAFE band through a spirited Sleigh Ride.
"Downtown" Julie Brown, a former MTV video jockey, joined the show to introduce Kevin Eubanks, Leno's band leader and featured guitarist, who jammed with the powerful USAFE band.
Then it was Leno's turn, and the guest of honor lit up the crowd with scores of jokes, mostly concerned with the utter weirdness of living in Los Angeles.
Leno didn't think the standard advice about sheltering in doorways during an earthquake was such a great idea because: "Who will be left alive after the quake? A bunch of hookers and winos, that's who."
Leno said he was taken aback by the airline pilot who emerged from the cockpit to chat with him during a flight.
Leno said he asked the pilot if he'd received his flight, experience in the military. The answer — "No, I couldn't get in because my eyesight is too bad" — left Leno feeling a bit less than secure for the duration of his journey,
Surprisingly, Leno made no topical remarks or jokes about Aviano, the Air Force or the pending peacekeeping operation in Bosnia, but the audience seemed not to care.
They came to have Leno make them laugh, and he did that superbly.
When the show. was over, Leno and the rest of the cast returned to the stage to join the USAFE band in Christmas caroIing.
On Sunday morning Leno, Morris, Brown and Eubanks joined the troops for breakfast — and more autograph-signing — in Aviano's new Tent City.
Morris said that despite some uncomfortable moments during his ride the previous day in the F-16, he "managed to save his breakfast and it was great. It's the greatest thrill I've ever had. I ride motorcycles and I'm used to going fast, but nothing like that."
Before boarding the modified KC-135 tanker for the flight back to California, Leno — who is known for cruising aboard Harley-Davidson motorcycles — joined a couple of dozen U.S. military members of the local Harley Owners Group for a photo session.
Portions of the show Leno taped at Aviano will be aired on The Tonight Show this week in the United States, but producers said Sunday they don't know which day that will be.