Friday, March 5, 2010

Meet Don Reed, "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" warm-up comic

photoIf you think you have a tough commute, listen to this: every Friday, Don Reed warms up the crowd for "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" in Burbank, and then hops a plane home to the San Francisco Bay Area to perform his acclaimed one-man show, "East 14th: Tales of a Reluctant Player." The autobiographical show has been a huge hit for Reed; after a nine-month run at the Marsh Theater in San Francisco, where it played to sold-out crowds, the Marsh chose "East 14th" to open its brand-new performance space across the bay in Berkeley. It starts a new run tonight (March 5) at 9 PM and is scheduled to play through March 28; you can check the dates and buy tickets here. View some video clips of Don on his web site. And if you want to see him pump up the crowds each weekday before Leno takes the stage, here's the link for "Tonight Show" tickets.

Don was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to chat via email with Talk Show News. I caught the show in San Francisco, and it's hilarious and touching, telling the true story of a boy who lives with his devout, God-fearing mom and stepdad, but is fascinated by his father's exotic life, which is filled with wild parties, beautiful women and crazy characters. Turns out Dad is a pimp, which innocent young Don didn't pick up on: "I thought he was just really into hats." Reed plays every role, displaying amazing skills of mimickry. The East Bay Express newspaper called "East 14th" one of the 10 best shows of 2009, praising the actor's "rubber-band body, elegant disco dance moves, and acute comic timing."

Reed also served as the warm-up guy for "The Jay Leno Show," and followed the host back to "Tonight."

What's it been like working for Leno during the media firestorm that was Late Night Wars 2010?

I was an ad/promo producer at NBC back in '98 to 2000 and had heard Jay was a great guy. He was not my boss. He had no power over my position whatsoever -- and I really, really liked him. Then I started working with him directly as the warmup comedian and found he was even nicer than I'd heard, devoid of ego. I've never worked with anyone in the entire industry with that level of succe$$ and they were that sound and grounded. It truly befuddles me how some of the public got it mixed up and think he had anything whatsoever to do with the circus style that things turned out. But, he's back where he belongs and the show is hotter than ever. He allows me to bolt out on Fridays RIGHT at 5pm in time to make it to the Marsh Berkeley for a 9pm show.

[Incidentally, Reed claims he's only missed his 9 PM Friday curtain time once.]

How did you get the job as Jay's warm-up guy? Is this your first time doing a job like this on a talk show?

It was pretty tough -- a lot, lot, lot, lot, lot, lot of comics would jump off several buildings to get this gig. It's a dreaaam job. It's right in the hot seat of THE biggest stars from film, TV, sports, publishing, music -- you name it. I've been involved in audience warmup for over 2 decades. I've done it for everything from "Girlfriends" to "That 70's Show, " "Frasier" to "Blossom," "Malcolm & Eddie" to "Golden Girls" -- urban shows -- mainstream shows -- I've probably done it. It's a well paid position, but it's waaay harder than it looks. There's an art to it really -- that's why not just any comic can walk up and start doing it. It's a fine mixture of being great -- but really, genuinely making it about the show you're setting up.

Will we ever see you on the air, in a sketch or doing a comedy segment?

There have been a few hints in that direction -- but I'm in no hurry. This, in my mind, is a far better job than really hot road comics have to endure. No matter how famous, they have to switch cities, hotel rooms, planes, taxis and MISS THEIR FAMILIES! If you don't have one -- then awesome. But if you do -- it's heartbreaking. I did the college circuit for 5 years straight -- over 400 colleges -- performed in every state in the country (except North Dakota... hmm?) -- but I wasn't home, ya know. This allows me to do stand-up every single day and stay in town. Presently I ONLY fly to the Bay Area to perform. 45 minutes away. I absolutely, truly love that... well... Until I'm back here and my mother starts trying to tell me what to do.

Have you been able to do "East 14th" in L.A.? Do you think you'll be taking it to other cities after the Marsh run ends?

Yes, the show ran in Los Angeles for 5 months -- got recognition and played Off Broadway the entire summer of 2008. I was just driving this morning thinking, "Maybe I should just do ONE big show in LA a month." One show because LA is a movie-tv show town. It's nowhere near as linked and channeled into the power and magic of theatre like the Bay Area. Not even close.

What's it been like to perform the show in the East Bay?

The Marsh audience is very, very diverse, as are San Francisco and Berkeley. I am seeing a lot more East Bay people though -- simply because it's right there. The laughter is just as loud -- however, the room seats more people, so perhaps it's even louder. Honestly, I'm too locked into the characters to really distinguish the difference. All kinds of people come -- turns out the story of a young teen pressured to be in that ultra strict religion where they knock on your door at 7 o'clock in the morning -- only to move in with his real dad and discover he's a pimp is a universal story. A fish waaaay outta water story.


  1. Anonymous said...

    It's no surprise that he has praise for the guy he works for — would he risk his job to tell us what he really thinks, if he thinks different? My other reaction to this interview is, if Leno has no ego, why didn't he suggest to NBC that his show go on after Carson Daly's rather than in the 11:35 spot?

  2. Talk Show News said...

    I don't doubt Don's sincerity. A lot of people who know Jay DO like him personally. Anyway, Don's one-man show is definitely worth seeing and I hope readers in the Bay Area check it out.

  3. Andy P. said...

    Caught the Tonight Show this past Monday, 3/29 and Don was probably the best part of our experience. He really got the crowd on their feet, and when the show ran into some sound trouble, he pulled out all the stops and kept the funny juices flowing! Don's slow motion interpretations are some the BEST things I've ever seen!

  4. Figures said...

    I've worked with Jay for years and it's true that he is gracious, generous and humble.

    I've worked with Don for a while and he's proven himself to be the opposite time and time again.

  5. Don Reed said...

    @Figures. It's Don Reed reaching out to Figures. Maybe I misread this or it's a joke. But, I'd really like to find out who you are because I pride myself on interacting with people on a very cool and professional level. I'm certain I've not gone further in my career because of being kind and not arrogant or a trouble maker. I never write into things like this, but your note implies we work together. Please be forward enough to let me know who you are so we can discuss. I can't imagine who I actually work with who would write such a thing. Very sincerly Don

  6. Anonymous said...

    To know Don is to love fact, just to meet him is a positive experience you won't forget
    No ego at all, never has anything bad to say about anyone.
    He is kind hearted, considerate and a genuine way,not a hollywood way.
    The best part is that he's hillarious....all the time.
    His 1 man show is an equal or better than any comedian I have ever seen. I his East 14th St in L.A. probably 7 times and would see it several more if he would do a show here again.....hint Why it hasn't hit HBO, Showtime etc is a mystery, hopefully that happens soon and everyone can laugh their Azz off to tears :)


  7. Anonymous said...

    Just saw Don Reed's newest show in San Fran - The Kipling Hotel - it was amazing! He is so very talented and his funny stories and characters segway into an inspirational message that could benefit anyone. I completely agree that even meeting him once was an incredibly positive experience and I detected nothing but humility. I recommend checking it out!

  8. Anonymous said...

    Wow Figures....

    Are you sure you're talking about the right Don Reed? I currently work with him and can honestly say that in all my years of working in television, film and stage, I have not met a nicer performer.