Billy Crystal on Bookending Jay Leno's 'Tonight Show' (Video)

"This brings to an end a long, successful two decades of a man’s career and of a country’s relationship with somebody," Crystal tells THR of Leno's exit.
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Billy Crystal as Jay Leno's first guest on the 'Tonight Show'

As Jay Leno's late-night hosting gig comes to an end Thursday, his very first guest, Billy Crystal, will also be his last.

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"I remember when he introduced me and I came out," Crystal tells THR of Leno's first time hosting Tonight. "I went to go shake hands where Ed [McMahonwould have been. I just wanted to break him up a little bit and then there we went... and he took the chair and sat in it for this long."

Crystal started off the show by singing a parody to Leno, inspired by the one Bette Midler had belted out for Johnny Carson in his penultimate Tonight episode. "I'm proud to be your first guest!" Crystal sang to to his longtime friend (see full video below).

The two started out their comedy careers together and have had a personal relationship for many years. Crystal claims that, with Leno, what you see is what you get. "He’s a really nice, hard-working comedian, and that’s rare," he says, clarifying: "The nice part."

Watch Crystal's first appearance on Tonight with Leno:

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Crystal, like many, emphasizes how hard Leno works, noting the immense amount of time, effort and creativity that it takes to prepare a 12-15 minute monologue every night, in addition to keeping up with all the other stand-up dates that Leno plays throughout the year. (The long-tenured host will be back on the road Friday, Feb. 7, with a gig set up in Florida.)

Along with fellow comedian Jerry Seinfeld, Crystal recognizes that if there is something about Leno that viewers don't know, it's how he responds to criticism, saying, "Jay is a very sensitive guy, even though he doesn’t want to be seen as that."

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Leno has invited Crystal back on Tonight to help bid the late-night show goodbye one last time, along with recent guests Betty White, Charles Barkley, Sandra Bullock, Blake Shelton, and successor Jimmy Fallon.

"There is a great satisfaction in him that when he took it over it was handed to him as number one and he’s leaving and it’s still number one," says Crystal of Leno's 22-year run. "I think that’s perhaps an underrated part of Jay’s legacy."