May 11, 2009 in Nation/World

Leno brings laughs, free of charge

Comedian performs gratis in region hard-hit by economy
James Hannah Associated Press
Associated Press photos photo

“I really appreciate Jay coming. This was fabulous, absolutely fabulous,” says Lora Walker, who was laid off from ABX Air in December after seven years. Associated Press photos
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

WILMINGTON, Ohio – In a region stung by layoffs and the pullout of a major employer, comedian Jay Leno was good for a few laughs.

The host of “The Tonight Show” put on a free stand-up performance Sunday for 4,000 people as part of his “Comedy Stimulus” tour.

“I don’t think Jay Leno can do anything about our local economy or the situation here, but at least he empathizes with us,” said John Porter, of Wilmington. “He realizes there is something big going on here and it could get a lot bigger.”

Wilmington, a city of about 12,000, has drawn national attention as a vivid example of the economic struggles of small U.S. communities during the recession. The main presidential candidates discussed its plight last year.

About 8,000 workers were employed at the Wilmington Air Park a year ago when delivery company DHL Express announced it was pulling out, and about 3,500 remain. Wilmington Mayor David Raizk said at least half of them will lose their jobs when DHL leaves this summer.

Leno, who also has performed free comedy concerts in the recession-racked Detroit area, spent 75 minutes delivering jokes at the Roberts Centre. He drew cheers from the crowd as he wrapped up the show, the first of two scheduled, saying he was just trying to get some laughs and cheer people up.

“We’re all brothers and sisters,” he said.

Leno’s performance drew rave reviews from the people who waited in line for hours to see him.

Dan Stewart, who works for DHL, called the show “fantastic.”

“I don’t see how anybody can stand up there and just go so fast and spontaneously in that amount of time without hardly catching his breath,” Stewart said.

Leno said he visited Wilmington because he knew the area has suffered an economic blow and many people didn’t have money for entertainment.

“I’m not here to explain the economic situation. Everybody knows what that is,” Leno said. “This is like escapism. You just kind of get out and forget your troubles for an hour and a half and have a few laughs.”

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