Jimmy Fallon is one of those polarizing figures in the entertainment business. To some, he’s a natural, energetic and likable comedic talent. To others, he’s a mugging goofball who’s done more with less than any other performer to step out of the Saturday Night Live spotlight.
Regardless of anyone’s take on his TV and movie career, Fallon did six years on SNL before taking over for Conan O’Brien on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon when the former headed out for his ill-fated run as Jay Leno’s Tonight Show replacement. He’s a heavy enough hitter to warrant his own night during the prestigious, two-week 2011 Paleyfest – the annual gathering of the biggest stars and most popular series sponsored by the The Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles.
So, before sell-out crowd of fans and assembled press and CraveOnline, Fallon appeared onstage at the Saban Theater on Wilshire Blvd. to discuss his rise to stardom on late night TV.
CraveOnline: How did you get into comedy and onto SNL?
Jimmy Fallon: I started doing stand-up and doing did impressions of different celebrities with a troll doll. I also studied at The Groundlings in Los Angeles before auditioning for SNL. I didn’t get hired when I first auditioned. They wanted someone black, so Tracy Morgan got the job that year.
CraveOnline: Why did you decide to move on from SNL and over to Late Night?
Jimmy Fallon: After six years on, I wanted to leave because I was still friends with everyone, and I wanted to leave while I was at peace with the show. Lorne (Michaels) mentioned Conan was going to take over for Leno down the line, and they’d need someone else at Late Night.
And, to be honest, my movies didn’t work out.
CraveOnline: How have you tried to make your Late Night different?
Jimmy Fallon: We decided to hire writers by talent, and not by resumes. We also brought a lot of women onto the staff. We have the most women on staff of any late night talk show.
We were also one of the first shows to embrace Twitter. We figured, if we got 300 followers before the show starts, that’s 300 more people in the audience. Two years later, We have over 3.5 million followers. I love the immediate feedback we get through Twitter.
CraveOnline: You jumped right in on the Charlie Sheen incident with viral videos. And you spoof different shows and personalities on the show. How do you pick your targets?
Jimmy Fallon: First, I used my own hair to look like Charlie Sheen – thanks to our make-up and hair people. Otherwise, we spoof shows that we love – like Real Housewives of Late Night, Jersey Floor and Late (Lost).
For Jersey Floor, we got Rachel Dratch to come on and do Snookie. In the video, she slips and falls on a table. After we shot the video on an abandoned floor at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, Rachel actually did fall. A perfect Snookie fall.
CraveOnline: What’s the average day like for you on Late Night?
Jimmy Fallon: It’s a lot of meetings about guest chats and monologues. I also practice the monologue jokes for 50 people we pull out of the NBC studio tour to figure out which ones are the best to use in the show.
After two years doing the show, we still work our asses off. As the host, there’s one thing I realize. You can’t get sick. You cannot be sick because a lot of people’s jobs depend on me.
CraveOnline: One of your most famous skits featured you as Neil Young with the real Bruce Springsteen in disguise. How did that come together?
Jimmy Fallon: The most amazing part of that wasn’t getting Springsteen, but it was getting him to wear a fake beard, a hat and a wig. I was so nervous knowing Springsteen was going to join me on stage for the show.
CraveOnline: Was that your most nervous moment as the show?
Jimmy Fallon: I had Robert DeNiro as my first guest, and I knew DeNiro doesn’t really like to talk. So, not the best idea for a first guest, huh? This is why you keep your studio temperature very cold. We call it “Letterman Cold.” You can keep meat in his studio. That’s for flop sweat that may develop during an experience like the one with DeNiro.
I didn’t know how to do the interview because I had no talk show experience when I started the show. But, we figure you worked all day. You’re stressed out, and you just want to go to bed and get one laugh. That’s what we want to do. That’s our philosophy because we’re lucky we get to do this crap, right?
CraveOnline: In addition to Late Night, you also hosted the Emmy Awards.
Jimmy Fallon: I had to convince the TV Academy to let me host the Emmys. Lorne made a phone call to help them make the decision. For the opening number, we picked Born To Run as the song to sing and we had Tina Fey, Jon Hamm, Joel McHale and others sing. It was great.
CraveOnline: Letterman had Leno to battle with, and you have Craig Ferguson. Is the war as intense?
Jimmy Fallon: Actually, there is no war. Craig is a friend. I think all of the late night TV guys actually get along better than people think. Sorry.
Photo Credit: Nikki Nelson / WENN.com