Jay Leno returned Sunday to the place that “saved his life.” The late-night comedian delivered the commencement address at his alma mater, Emerson College, after receiving his Doctor of Humane Letters.
“It was the first time in my life being funny got me something other than detention,” Leno said on stage at Agganis Arena. Reminiscing on nights spent sleeping in New York City alleyways, hoping for a gig, he knew, “No matter how awful the gigs were, I still had a place to go back to.”
Leno built the beginnings of his stand-up career while at Emerson College, where he graduated from in 1973. He soon followed in the famed footsteps of broadcast legends Steve Allen, Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, spending two decades serving as host of The Tonight Show, all while winning an Emmy and People’s Choice Award along the way.
To help usher in the Class of 2014, Leno shared his 20 rules of show business, in no particular order, and they included:
Try Not to Get a Regular Job
Because, “When you get a regular job, you start acting like regular people. And if you graduate from [Emerson], you are not a regular person.
Always Keep People in Your Life Who Don’t Quite Understand What You Do
Those people will help remind you, “You’re never as important as you think you are.”
Keep the Friends You Made in College
After all, “One of them could be the key to your success, or you could be the key to theirs.”
Do Not Judge Your Own Success by the Success of Others
Everyone’s road map charts a different path.
Never Turn Down a Job Because of Money
Rather, turn down the job only because you don’t like it. Money will come.
If You Can’t Get in the Front Door, Go in the Back Door
Leno wasn’t good enough for The Tonight Show at first, so he accepted every second-rate talk show, no matter how terrible, until he was.
You Can Only Live in the Time You Live In
So, deal with it and stop complaining.
Don’t Have a Relationship with a Partner Who Doesn’t Get It
“You need a soulmate, not a cellmate.”
Never Go on Stage Mad
Because, “Anger robs creativity.”
Never Create Anything Bigger Than Your Act
Leno used Meryl Streep as an example, a woman who’s recognized for her brilliance, not her wealth. “Try to get press for things that have to do with your abilities,” he said.
When You Get Too Comfortable, Move On
“You should always try to find the toughest audience you can.”
Anybody Can Have a Life. Careers are Hard to Come By.
The journey begins now, so start working hard for it.