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Emerson LA Students Go Behind the Scenes of Jay Leno’s Garage​

Inside a nondescript series of buildings, tucked into a corner of Burbank, California, rows and rows of cars—ranging from a 1906 Stanley Steamer Vanderbilt Cup Racer to a 2018 Acura NSX—sit in Jay Leno’s (’73) Big Dog Garage. Some 180 vehicles in vibrant blues, reds, yellows, and every other color imaginable, and 160 motorcycles take up most of the real estate. As if the automobiles weren’t eye catching enough, the walls are covered in memorabilia, including city signs, racing flags, and specially commissioned canvas paintings. At every turn, there is a visual treat. 

Seven students from Emerson College Los Angeles got the opportunity to soak in alumnus Jay Leno’s collection of cars and go behind the scenes of his CNBC show Jay Leno’s Garage. The comedian spent several minutes speaking with the students.

Alumnus Jay Leno '73 poses with Emerson LA students. Photo/Daryl Paranada

“If there’s somebody you admire in the business, approach them,” said Leno, who told the students that there were several ways to get in the industry. “People want to help young people, just not crazy young people.”

Leno encouraged the students to send handwritten letters to people in their field of interest because it leaves an impression. It can’t hurt, he told the students, and the worst that can happen is they get ignored.

“You’re in a very personal business,” said Leno. “It’s a good time for you. They want young people.”

Michael Kiaunis ’18, a Visual and Media Arts major, took the letter writing advice to heart. An aspiring live TV producer, Kiaunis was excited to visit the set of Leno’s show.

“It was fun and it’s where I want to be,” said Kiaunis, who planned to send a letter to someone working in his field after hearing Leno’s advice.

Alumnus David Swift ’09, supervising producer of Jay Leno’s Garage, showed students around the set, where they observed a crew filming scenes for an upcoming show. Swift shared his journey about how he started as an intern at The Tonight Show and eventually became a senior producer at Leno’s current show. He spoke about the show’s filming schedule, working with Leno (“he’s a really nice guy, very compassionate”), and what it’s like to deal with talent.

Alumnus David Swift '09, left, speaks with Emerson LA students on the set of Jay Leno's Garage. Photo/Daryl Paranada

“You’re dealing with a lot of different personalities,” said Swift. “You have to learn how to prioritize.”

Chris Kramer ’18 was excited to see the crew at work and meet Leno because he’s a fan of the comedian’s work.

“I’ve watched him for a long time and think he’s really funny,” said Kramer, a Visual and Media Arts major. “It was really interesting to see how it all works.”

This is the second time that Emerson LA students have had the opportunity to visit Leno’s garage. Two years ago, students went behind the scenes to see how the show was produced and interacted with alumni. For Kevin Milton ’18, learning how the show was made proved to be a memorable experience—one of many.  

“I’m just going to be honest,” said Milton ’18, a Journalism major. “I love opportunities to meet famous people.”

He asked Leno to take a selfie and had the chance to pose for photos with the comedian, along with the rest of the group.

For Laura Gartelman ’18, a Visual and Media Arts major who hopes to go into sports production one day, Leno’s advice to take risks was something that resonated with her.  

“A lot of adults tell you to play it safe, but this is one of the few times I’ve been encouraged to go for it,” said Gartelman. “If you take the risk, you can get a big reward.”

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