ST. LOUIS - As Jay Leno hosts "The Tonight Show" for the final time Thursday night, two St. Louisans who've spent considerable time with him put the Leno legacy into perspective.
St. Louis native Cedric the Entertainer has a unique perspective on the changing of the guard. He's appeared on "The Tonight Show" five times with Leno, and multiple times on Jimmy Fallon's show. Fallon will replace Leno February 17.
"Both these guys are really great," said Cedric. "I've probably been on Jimmy Fallon's about three times and he's also again just a very accommodating performer, but I think Fallon is going to be perfect in that environment."
Cedric the Entertainer has found success as an actor, comedian and game show host. He said Leno went out of his way to make it easy for other comedians appearing on "The Tonight Show."
"Because he's a comic, he was able to really embrace comedians and young performers and allow you this place to where you could strive and do well, and of course being able to introduce you to the world," said Cedric.
In 2005 Leno invited Cedric the Entertainer on a USO trip to entertain troops in Afghanistan.
"We spent like 22 hours on an airplane laughing and joking and being guys and being comedians," he said.
Eric Mink, currently an instructor at Webster University, interviewed Leno as many as 10 times while he was a television critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the NY Daily News. Mink said he always liked Leno better as a standup comedian, but says Leno's legacy is undeniable.
"He defied all of the people, the alleged experts like me that said he would be terrible," said Mink. "I still think he was terrible, but the show survives, he has persisted. In this business there is nothing like longevity to measure a person's craft by, to measure their success by. There's no way to say Jay was anything but a success on The Tonight Show."