Jimmy Fallon on ‘The Tonight Show,’ Seth Meyers and being ‘scared’ of’ Rahm Emanuel
By LORI RACKL TV Critic February 16, 2014 6:58PM
Host Jimmy Fallon (right) passes down the "Late Night Pickle" to Seth Meyers (left) on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" at Rockefeller Center on January 28, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
‘THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON’
11 p.m. Monday-Thursday this week before moving to regular time slot, 10:35 p.m. weekdays on WMAQ-Channel 5.
Updated: February 16, 2014 10:22PM
Long before Jimmy Fallon got his “Late Night” gig, let alone “The Tonight Show” throne, he visited Second City to take in a show and “pay homage.”
“I’m a big John Belushi fan,” Fallon said about the late “Saturday Night Live” star and Second City alum. “I saw where he wrote his name in the bathroom and I wrote my name on the same wall.”
Fallon, who trained with L.A.’s Groundlings comedy troupe, got yanked on stage to do some improv after the Second City show.
“I was nervous,” he recalled during an interview at Chicago’s NBC Tower late last year. “I performed with this young comedian at the time who was really funny,” Fallon added, pausing for dramatic effect. “His name is Seth Meyers. Very interesting how our careers have risen together.”
Interesting? More like uncanny.
Fallon’s first TV role was a bit part on the ABC sitcom “Spin City.” Same for Meyers.
Fallon joined the “SNL” cast in 1998. Meyers signed on in 2001. “I remember people saying, ‘They hired the new you at ‘Saturday Night Live,’” Fallon said.
Meyers is about to follow Fallon’s lead again. The Northwestern grad takes over the “Late Night” desk next week from Fallon, who makes his “Tonight Show” debut at 11 p.m. Monday.
Fallon is breaking out the big guns for launch week. Monday’s line-up includes Will Smith and U2. The rest of the week calls for Justin Timberlake, Jerry Seinfeld, Will Ferrell, Bradley Cooper, Kristen Wiig, Lady Gaga, Arcade Fire, Tim McGraw and Michelle Obama.
It’s going to be tough for the first lady and Fallon to top the “Late Night” skit they did this time last year, “The Evolution of Mom Dancing,” where Fallon donned a wig and busted some mom moves with Michelle Obama.
“Before the first lady would agree to do it they wanted to see what the dances would be,” Fallon said. “So I videoed myself doing dances in my office — completely embarrassing. But they liked it. We did it. And it went uber-viral.”
With 17 million YouTube views and counting, it’s one of Fallon’s signature viral videos that have helped make the 39-year-old host a hit with the digital demographic. These Internet-friendly skits — along with popular recurring bits like thank you notes, house band the Roots, and the ability to talk A-listers like Tom Cruise into a game of egg Russian roulette — are all things Fallon intends to take with him to television’s top-rated late-night talker.
“Everything that works on ‘Late Night’ we’re keeping for ‘The Tonight Show,’ ” Fallon said. “We just want to make TV moments, whether it be dancing with the first lady, a hashtag thing with Justin Timberlake or slow jamming the news with the president.”
One Chicagoan who has an open invitation to be on “Tonight” whenever he wants: Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“All he has to do is make a phone call,” Fallon said. “He can host if he wants to. I’m scared of that guy.”
At some point in the not-so-distant future, Fallon plans to tape a few shows in Chicago. He likes the city because it reminds him of home, New York, where he’s bringing “Tonight” back after a 40-plus-year absence.
“It started in New York, it should be in New York,” Fallon said. “When I think Los Angeles, I don’t think late night. I think of daytime, palm trees, people in good shape rollerblading and eating sushi.
“New York City, I think of nighttime, Times Square, people out at clubs, Broadway, the lights. It’s just alive,” he said. “It’s a city, like Chicago.”
Fallon’s new home, Studio 6B in Rockefeller Center, is where Johnny Carson helmed the iconic program before moving it west in 1972.
“NBC wanted to blow out two floors and make a balcony and put a movie screen in there,” Fallon said about the hallowed space. “I didn’t like it. It’s tough with comedy to do balcony stuff. I like to run through the crowd and do bits in the audience.
“I talked to [NBC late-night god] Lorne [Michaels] about it and Lorne was like, ‘We should keep it the way it is,’ ” he said. “We’re adding 100 seats, which is great because the more people, the bigger the laughs.”
If Fallon has proven anything during his “SNL” tenure and his five years at “Late Night,” it’s that he can get big laughs.
In a small way, he owes one of his famous thank you notes to John Belushi for that.
“I used to write his name in my notebooks, just to inspire me to work harder and to go for it,” Fallon said. “When you’re doing a comedy bit, go for it, give 150 percent. That’s the only way you’re going to score.”