DETROIT (Reuters) -- In a nod to the gloomy economy, late-night comedian Jay Leno hosted a show on Tuesday to lift the battered spirits of Detroit residents facing steep unemployment and a faltering auto industry.
The host of NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," a celebrated car buff, presented a "comedy stimulus plan" to a packed house for free at a suburban Detroit arena that is home to the Detroit Pistons professional basketball team.
"The idea is just come on down, hopefully forget your troubles for a while, other people are in the same boat as you are and maybe take some of the weight off, that's all," Leno told reporters beforehand.
After an introduction by hometown hero Kid Rock, Leno launched into an 80-minute monologue aimed at anyone and anything from U.S. presidents to air travel and life in Los Angeles.
He riffed on cars, the price of gasoline and ads for brands like Jaguar and Lexus while steering clear of Detroit, or the struggling U.S. carmakers, as a butt of his jokes.
Leno thanked union members, whose parents and grandparents "created the middle class in America" and told a roaring audience, "God bless Detroit."
"It's bad, but it's not that bad. Things will turn around; they have before," he said.
The arena was set up for about 15,000 seats, and all the tickets were distributed for shows on Tuesday and Wednesday. Parking and soft drinks were free, and other items were discounted as sponsors chipped in to offset the costs.
Leno has done other shows of this kind in Las Vegas and Pennsylvania.
Motown hit hard
Detroit was hard hit by the auto industry's troubles and crumbling housing prices even before the latest economic downturn .
Michigan's unemployment rate was 12 percent in February, compared with what was a 25-year high 8.1 percent U.S. rate. Rates are much higher in some areas. In Detroit, the jobless rate hit an unadjusted 22.8 percent in February.
Leno's show was planned long before President Barack Obama rejected turnaround plans from General Motors and Chrysler LLC at the end of March.
Obama's auto task force forced out GM CEO Rick Wagoner, told GM to cut deeper and move faster, and ordered Chrysler to forge an alliance with Italy's Fiat S.p.A. within a month.
"I think you will see a new resurgence," Leno told reporters. "I think you will see these companies coming back. It's not new. These companies have been in trouble before."
He said he added a new Chevrolet Corvette and a new Dodge Challenger muscle car to his collection this year.
The comedian has not hesitated to direct barbs at U.S. automakers for "bad cars" produced in the past. He also said engineering, handling and braking on recent cars demonstrated quality. He does not favor buy American type pledges.
"I think you should buy it because you want to and because it is as good a product," Leno said. "I don't think you should buy it because you feel sorry for some situation."
Thousands of fans waited patiently to see the show, which Leno said was aimed at cheering up anyone down on their luck.
A.J. Frantz of Mount Clemens said he just wanted to get back to driving a truck. "No matter how hard it gets, I'm going to stay right here in Michigan," he said. "I'm a pure 100 percent optimist; you've got to love life."