Mr. Big Stuff
BY Jeremy Kinser
November 14 2011 9:00 AM ET
After high school Mathews fled his hometown to study communications at the University of La Verne, in the suburbs of Los Angeles, and had what he describes as “a freak-out session” during his senior year there.
“I realized I had no real skills at all,” he says. “Unless you count making a bong out of a Diet Dr. Pepper can or quoting every line to Pretty Woman.” Then a friend told him she had landed an intern job at The Tonight Show the previous summer through a family friend.
“I was like, ‘Hook a brother up,’” he says. “So I got the number of the lady who hires interns, cold-called her, and went in for an interview. She could tell I was obsessed with Hollywood. She told me this is not a glamorous job, this is hard work, and you do it for free.”
Mathews, bowled over by the proximity to his dream job, was unfazed. “I told her I had worked at McDonald’s scraping dried secret sauce out of the garbage can holders for $4.25 an hour,” he remembers. “I would do that here for free just to be a part of the show.”
On the last day of his internship in 2001, Mathews was summoned into the office of Leno’s head writers. “I thought they found out I was stealing food from the commissary, which I totally was,” Mathews says. Instead he was packed into a van with a camera crew to follow guest George Clooney to the premiere of Ocean’s Eleven and interview celebrities on the red carpet.
On the way to the premiere he began to wonder if they were making fun of him. “And I just decided, Who the fuck cares,” he says. “You have to have a little faith in yourself—you know they’re going to laugh at you first, but just make them laugh with you by the end of it.”
Mathews isn’t bothered by what’s often perceived as homophobic humor in the comedy industry, including some controversy surrounding his two mentors. In 2008, Leno infamously asked actor Ryan Phillippe to demonstrate his “gayest look.” Mathews sees it as merely a harmless gaffe. “I’ve only known Jay to be kind and accepting,” he says. “My sexuality has never been an issue. I know he has gay friends, and there are gay people working on the staff. He is the nicest, most inclusive guy that you can imagine.”