The True Story Behind How Jay Leno Almost Blew His Big Break

For years, it's been difficult to watch television without seeing Jay Leno's face. After making his name in the stand-up comedy world, he hosted "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" from 1992 to 2009, a show that was no stranger to controversy, followed by the short-lived "The Jay Leno Show," "The Tonight Show" again, and "Jay Leno's Garage" (via IMDb), and was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 2014 (via Deadline). Simply put, he's one of the biggest names in American pop culture.

However, it could have all been so different. Leno actually got started through his job at McDonald's, taking part in the regional talent show put on by the company, but his first real audition didn't go too well. Per Factinate, he had a sore throat and used some throat spray, not realizing that it was an anesthetic, numbing his mouth and ruining the audition. That's nothing compared to the time he almost blew his big break, however — here's the true story of what went down.

Jay Leno originally turned down a big role

Believe it or not, Jay Leno, who has recently changed a number of his comedy routines, came inches away from losing his first big role. According to Factinate, Leno had a chance encounter with director Ivan Passer at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles, with Passer offering Leno the chance to join his project. Leno turned the opportunity down, however, as he was wary of scams, but the pair then met again. This time, Leno accepted. 

Passer really wanted Leno for his movie "Silver Bears," and gave the budding actor the phone number to the production office — convincing Leno that everything was legitimate. As it turns out, accepting the role was a pretty good decision, as he got to star alongside the likes of Michael Caine and Cybil Shepherd, and even meet his hero Johnny Carson as a result (via Factinate) when he hosted "The Tonight Show," a role which Leno would later take over. "The Tonight Show" is currently hosted by Jimmy Fallon.