With Thanksgiving upon us and Jimmy Fallon set to take over the reins of The Tonight Show from Jay Leno after the 2014 Winter Olympics in late February, the Stuttering Foundation would like to express thanks that The Tonight Show has given the stuttering community many much needed boosts over the last 50 years at a time when the film industry did not portray people who stutter in a positive light.
Jack Paar, the second host of The Tonight Show, made the show a staple of American culture during his run as host from 1957-1962. Paar always identified himself as a person who stutters. He grew up with a severe stuttering problem, and as a teenager would perform “make believe” radio shows in his basement dreaming of being a fluent speaker. Paar stated in his 1959 autobiography, “Like many youngsters who stammer, I lived in a world of imagination and books."
Paar was the first entertainer to speak openly of his stuttering, and on several occasions used The Tonight Show as a forum to speak candidly of his past stuttering in a way that put a human face on the speech problem.
Jay Leno, the fourth host of The Tonight Show, hired John Melendez, a well-known person who stutters, in 2004 to be the show’s announcer as well as participate in other aspects of the show. Previously, Melendez’ 15 year run on The Howard Stern Show saw him continually mocked and ridiculed for his stuttering. Leno, whose undergraduate degree from Emerson College is in speech language-pathology, hired Melendez for his professional abilities and obviously did not let the fact that Melendez is a person who stutters affect his decision.
It was a great moment for the stuttering community when Leno hired Melendez as his announcer because we all knew it was because of John’s abilities. At this time of Thanksgiving, we are appreciative for all that Paar and Leno have done to promote a positive image of stuttering, and we wish Fallon the best. We hope that Mr. Fallon continues The Tonight Show’s tradition of supporting people who stutter.
Nov. 25, 2013