Tonight at 11:30 p.m. ET, Jimmy Fallon becomes the sixth host of The Tonight Show. But is it still, as they called it during the Johnny Carson years, “the late night place to be?”
Tonight started in New York, with original host Steve Allen. at the Hudson Theatre. Allen came up with the template–the desk, the monologue, the bandleader, the couch, even many of the comedy bits still used in late night today.
Fallon is bringing it all back to Manhattan for the first time since the early ’70s. He’ll be in the same Rockefeller Center studio 6B where Jack Paar once hosted and where Johnny Carson began his 30-year run in 1962. (It’s also where David Letterman and Conan O’Brien both hosted Late Night). Fallon’s first guests Monday night: Will Smith and U2.
The 39-year-old was surrounded by reporters at the TCA press tour in Pasadena in January immediately following his session. Things were a little less hectic an hour or so later when Fallon, Seth Meyers (who takes over NBC’s Late Night next week) and others stuck around for a cocktail reception outside the main TCA hotel ballroom. About eight or nine of us came at him with questions. Here’s a slice of that free-for-all:
You seem like one of the least angst-y late night hosts. Not a lot of inner turmoil. Is this true?
Prescription drugs? Good therapy.
I’m just, I’m a pretty cheerful guy. I’m looking forward to it. It’s a fun job, if you think about it. I mean, if you like pop culture, you know, you get to see movies before people get to see movies, you know, tickets to any Broadway show you want, you get to hear music right where they’re 10 feet away from you!
How do you know when it’s time for you to leave one kind of job, like, when you leave Saturday Night Live to something else, to do movies, or you leave movies to do your show?
Well, Saturday Night Live, I just knew that – Belushi only did three seasons, so I was looking at him and thinking, maybe I should get out after three. My contract said six, so I said, I could probably get out of it, but then Colin Quinn left Weekend Update, so I was asked to do Weekend Update, so I said, well alright, I’ll do that for the show, just to make sure it’s a decent transition. I don’t like when cast members stay that long, you know? It’s always good to have fresh, new cast, just – then you get the whole Saturday Night Live DEAD stories.
How do you get people like Bruce Springsteen and Mick Jagger to participate in these sketches?
The Bruce thing, – the last Bruce thing was one of the more insane things ever. That was just pretty crazy. My writers sent him some version of Born to Run, and it wasn’t that funny, and then he said he had some lines too, and I said, alright…and he goes (breaking into a Bruce impression), “Lemme play you what I got.”
He helped write that sketch?
I think everyone knows that I don’t wanna make him look foolish. You know, I wanna make him look good. At the end of the day, I’m in on the joke. I’m not making fun of you, I’m not sneaking up on you, it’s not a hidden camera thing, I’m just, – we know what we both do and let’s go out with confidence together and make it topical, if you can, but if not, just make it something fun that no one’s seen before.
I was in my dressing room, I had the headband on and the wig, and I was doing push-ups, I swear. So he walked by and he goes, “Whoa! You’re cheating!”
So he started doing push-ups next to me, I swear!
So he started doing push-ups and then, he did much more than I could. That guy’s in great shape!
You can say you played a song with Bruce Springsteen.
It’s unbelievable. The fact that this job – the opportunity this job has given me.
The music and the parodies. Was that something that you always planned to do on The Late Night Show, or was that something that evolved?
It kind of evolved. I think, Colbert told me something–Conan told Colbert–and it was like with this show, you’ll use everything you’ve ever learned. Everything you’ve ever known. And I’m like, – so, as far as impressions, parodies, sketches, I mean, tap-dancing, – anything, – golfing, uh, just shooting a basketball, I mean, anything…
What musician do you wanna work with, and have you heard from like a Neil Young that you’ve impersonated?
I ran into Neil Young, backstage on my show–we had his wife on, Peggy, who’s great. And I said, “Hey Neil!” And he said, “Whip My Hair” is the biggest hit I’ve had in ten years.”
How cool was it to win a Grammy?
Well, that is one of the coolest awards you can win. I mean, it’s a gold gramophone. People see that in your office and it’s like, “Whoa!” That’s big time.
The Emmy’s great too. We won the Emmy for web design, and then I won one for hosting Saturday Night Live, so we have a couple of Emmys there, – and if ever I win one for Late Night or Tonight Show, I’ll give it to my parents,
At this stage you know like a zillion celebrities, but who would still get you kind of like amped up because they’re so huge?
I’m just always fascinated by celebrities. I mean, you have people like Will Smith. The reason why he’s a great first guest is because he’s a Hollywood superstar. He’s an A-lister and also, he’s very entertaining on talk shows, which is rough to have that combination of both. Some people are just great at acting in movies, and talking to them – it’s heart attack, you know to get in there, to have them express themselves or perform or do anything. He’s one of those rare combinations of both where you can actually, – he’s a great conversation, he’s very animated, he’s great on television, and he’s a giant, giant movie star.
And U2, as I said, we were just dying to have those guys, and then the record’s gonna be monstrous and they know how to perform.