“Justin, we’re at 6,000 feet so far!” said the skydiving videographer. “How do you feel about that?”
It was October 2006, and I was about to share the exhilarating experience of jumping 14,500 feet out of a plane for my college television show, “What’s Goin’ Down with Justin Brown.” About to participate in perhaps the highest form of an adrenaline rush possible, I couldn’t help but realize that the forthcoming stunt could result in my death.
“I just wanted to say that if I die, I want to apologize to my dad for never telling him that I skipped two weeks of school and went to California,” I confessed. “Sorry I told mom and I didn’t tell you.”
Instantly, a flashback of that trip to California consumed my thoughts. I was a second-year freshman in college when I went. During a visit from traveling foreigners I met while employed at a summer camp, it was suggested that I follow one of them to Vegas. I agreed to join under the condition that we also hit up California!
I would have told my father about the vacation, but since I was on academic probation at the time, I had an instinct he would have been less than supportive.
It’s not like I’m a completely terrible son! After all, I did tell my mother. Not because I favor my mother over my father — I just needed to let a family member know of my whereabouts in case I died. And, considering my mother was a housewife who lacked the total authority to financially cut me off at the tender age of 19, I decided she would be the best candidate to tell in case of emergency.
After returning all the textbooks I purchased for the semester and conning a socially challenged Phi Pig sorority girl to purchase my airline ticket, I gallivanted on a two-week West Coast adventure.
Within an hour of our arrival, we met someone passing out tickets on Hollywood Boulevard for “The Tonight Show.” We hurried for our chance to watch the late-night icon in action.
Once we arrived at the studio, we found out that not everyone was guaranteed admittance. After waiting in line for more than an hour, we were the next two people awaiting confirmation that there was enough room in the audience.
“There is only one more seat,” we were told. “One of you can sit in the audience, and one of you can watch the show from the green room.” My eyes lit up! The green room is where celebrities hang out before the show. “Since you’re from England, I’ll let you sit in the audience,” I convinced my friend. “I’ll sit in the green room. I’ll have another chance to sit in the audience. You won’t.”
I manipulated my way to be the one to sit in the green room, hoping to catch a glimpse of a celebrity. Just my luck, that day all of the asshole guests decided to stay in their dressing rooms — Ellen DeGeneres, Roseanne and Denzel Washington, who stopped by to sign a motorcycle Leno was auctioning to benefit Hurricane Katrina victims.
Since the audience members don’t usually watch the show from the green room, there were no staff members around to direct me out after the taping. So I decided to take a handful of snacks from the craft service table and look around the studio.
Then, all of a sudden, while walking down a flight of stairs, a door popped open. It was Jay Freakin’ Leno — wearing all denim and a big, warm smile. I immediately put my cookie on the floor and asked him to take a picture of me with my disposable camera. He said yes! After taking a picture, I picked my cookie off the ground, placed it back in my mouth and ran to find my friend and tell him that I met Jay Freakin’ Leno!
A year later, about to skydive for my college TV show, my nerves settled as I remembered the trip I never told my dad about. I realized if I could manage to sneak backstage at “The Tonight Show” and meet Leno, then I could do anything. Ten years later, as millions of late-night television fans reminisce the awesomeness of David Letterman, I reserve my praise for Jay Freakin’ Leno because he probably could have had me arrested — but didn’t — and is partially the reason I feel invincible when I hadn’t had any drugs or alcohol.