Although Conan O'Brien will take over The Tonight Show in 2009, Leno says he isn't ready to permanently trade his sports coat for mechanic's overalls.
"I am definitely done next year -- with NBC," he says, sitting in a huge recliner in his poster-strewn shop office. Would he go to another network? Leno just smiles. "I'm not a beach guy, and the last time I was in my pool was to fix a light. Don't worry, I'll find a job somewhere."
In the meantime, he'll keep coming here in between the more than 160 stand-up dates he does each year. For Leno, Hollywood's gifts are fickle, but his automotive family -- from his machines to the half-dozen mechanics who work for him -- grounds him in a reality that recalls his New England roots.
"In showbiz, your success is totally subjective. 'Oh, the ratings are great, we love you. Oh, they're not, we don't love you,' " he says, waving a hand dismissively. "Here in the shop, if something is broken and you fix it, you know you can be proud."
Leno may have millions, but his approach to wealth dates to his early days turning a wrench.
"I had two jobs as a kid, one at a fast-food restaurant and one at a Ford dealership. And I'd put the money from one job in one pocket and spend it. And the other paycheck I'd save," he says. "I do that now. I have always banked my Tonight Show money and lived off the stand-up. I have one credit card, no mortgage, and I don't lease."
Any plans for his Tonight Show windfall? Leno leans over a stack of papers, pretending they're bank statements. "I suppose I'll just look at the number one day and go, "Oooh, that's pretty neat,' " he says. He says he has set up foundations that donate to a range of charities but then closes the book on the topic.