HOLLYWOOD -- In his nine years at "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," Jim Brogan helped craft a few thousand monologues and probably helped oversee as many as 45,000 jokes -- work that earned him the job title of "vice president in charge of monologues."
That tenure ended quietly last week, when Brogan left the show to pursue other projects. NBC made no announcement about the departure, but Brogan's influence as Leno's unseen adviser was familiar to those in comedy circles.
"He was a little sad but he's really been encouraging me to do my own thing," Brogan said of Leno. "We talked about it last week and I said, 'You've got your dream job. I've got a great job and I'll always be grateful and thankful for it, but I want to do other things.' "
Brogan's decision to leave NBC was made easier by the salary freezes ongoing at "The Tonight Show," which is one of the most profitable shows produced by the General Electric-owned network. Brogan earned about $600,000 a year on a two-year contract that was up for renewal.
"Had they thrown a lot of money at me, I might have been tempted to go, 'Whoa, that's great money,' " Brogan said, before adding dryly of G.E.: "Evidently, if they paid one penny more, they'd go under."
But Brogan -- a good-natured and notoriously frugal person who favors jeans and sneakers and still drives a Toyota Tercel -- also said money wasn't the overriding factor in his decision.
Brogan's departure marks the end of a working relationship with Leno that began in 1987, when the comedian became a permanent "Tonight Show" guest host, and has continued throughout Leno's reign as successor to Johnny Carson, during which "The Tonight Show" has emerged as late-night TV's top-rated show, consistently beating its chief rival, CBS' "The Late Show with David Letterman." Together, Leno and Brogan, who met as comics in New York in the 1970s, worked on the centerpiece of the show: Leno's headline-riffing monologue. Sunday through Thursday nights, the pair convened at Leno's Beverly Hills house and worked into the early-morning hours, whittling down the hundreds of jokes faxed in by "Tonight Show" writers to the 20 to 30 Leno tells in a typical monologue.
Before working on "The Tonight Show," Brogan, who still performs stand-up around town several times a week, was a comedian peer of top comics Leno and Jerry Seinfeld. In 1979, Brogan starred in the short-lived ABC sitcom "Out of the Blue," in which he played an angel living with an extended family in Chicago.
Years later, when Leno became a permanent guest host of "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," the comic would ask Brogan to help hash out his monologues, as Brogan had done for Seinfeld when the comedian made his first "Tonight Show" appearance in 1981.
"When Jay first took over the show, I said, 'Oh, I'll help you out for six months, and it turned into nine years of doing it," said Brogan, who says he'll still perform Sunday nights at the Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, when Leno headlines.
Brogan, 52, said he's now looking to finance a feature script he's written called "I Was a Teenage Freshman." He's also going to pitch a TV pilot he and comedian Pat Hazel are developing called "Toys Were Us."
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