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Late Night 'Thank You Notes' From Jimmy Fallon

Fallon is thankful for slow walkers, people named Lloyd and the word "moist." The comedian and host of Late Night collects more than 100 nuggets of gratitude in his book Thank You Notes. He talks with Terry Gross about giving thanks and doing impressions.

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Transcript

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Late Night 'Thank You Notes' From Jimmy Fallon

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

If you watch "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," you know what an uncanny ability
he has to do other people's voices, like Neil Young and Bob Dylan. Lots of
people who can't stay up late enough to watch the show see his impressions
because they go viral on the Internet.

Jimmy Fallon became known for his impressions when he was a cast member on
"Saturday Night Live," but he became even better-known on SNL for co-anchoring
"Weekend Update" with Tina Fey.

We're going to talk about his impressions, and you'll be hearing a lot of
different voices from Fallon. We'll also talk about "Late Night," "SNL" and how
he got into comedy. Fallon took over "Late Night" from Conan O'Brien when
O'Brien left to prepare to take over "The Tonight Show" in 2009.

Every Friday on "Late Night," Fallon does a feature called "Thank You Notes,"
in which he writes and reads messages addressed to the things that have made
him grateful during the week. Now he has a new book collecting them, called
"Thank You Notes."

Jimmy Fallon, welcome to FRESH AIR. It's great to have you on the show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JIMMY FALLON (TV Host, Comedian): I'm a big fan. Thank you so much for
having me on.

GROSS: Oh, God, thank you so much.

So let's start with some thank-you notes, and we have your theme music, your
thank-you note theme music. So...

Mr. FALLON: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: ...you have some picked out. So here we go.

Mr. FALLON: Yeah, I'm getting ready. Here we go. Let's just start it off.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. FALLON: Thank you, the word moist, for being the worst word ever. I think I
speak for all Americans when I say we don't want you as a word anymore. God, I
hate you.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. FALLON: Thank you hard taco shells for surviving the long journey from
factory, to supermarket, to my plate and then breaking the moment I put
something inside you. Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. FALLON: Thank you, yard sales, for being the perfect way to say to your
neighbors: We think we're important enough to charge money for our garbage.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. FALLON: Thank you, the name Lloyd, for starting with two L's. I'm glad both
those L's were there, because otherwise I would've just called you Loyd.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: And finally...

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. FALLON: ...thank you, slow-walking family walking in front of me on the
sidewalk. No, please, take your time, and definitely spread out, too, so you
create a barricade of idiots. I'm so thankful that you forced me to walk on the
street and risk getting hit by a car in order to pass you so I could resume
walking at a normal, human pace. Thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, that's Jimmy Fallon, from his new book "Thank You Notes." And
Jimmy, you know, sometimes Friday nights, the last thing I hear before going to
sleep is your thank-you notes.

(Soundbite of applause)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: I love that. That's all I want. That's all I could ask for.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So, I love ending the week on that note. The rest of the week, I have to
DVR you, because you're just on too late for me.

Mr. FALLON: It's so late. I mean, honestly, I don't even know what time I'm on.
I mean, NBC keeps pushing us back. I think we're, like, 12:38 in the a.m. It's
like, you know, when that whole late-night thing was going down with moving
people around...

GROSS: Oh, yeah.

Mr. FALLON: I remember somebody came up and said: Jimmy, do you mind if we put
you on at 1:30?

I go: Are you kidding me? How late am I on now? I'm close enough. I might as
well be on at 1:30.

GROSS: So how did the thank-you notes start?

Mr. FALLON: The thank-you notes, it's a funny thing. Like, when you start a
talk show, you always hope that you get a top-10 list type of thing, or
headlines or, you know, like Jay Leno and Dave Letterman have.

And so you just try something new every week. You spitball with the writers,
and you try to think of something. So when we first started, one Friday, this
great writer, his name is Jeremy Bronson. He's from the Harvard Lampoon, a
great writer. And he was like: Maybe you should do, like, a thank-you notes
segment, where you just write a thank-you note to a celebrity or someone who
screwed up during the week or, you know.

And I was like: Well, maybe I can just thank, like, normal, mundane things, or
things that bother me, whether it be, you know, the word moist or, you know,
that fake drawer that you have in your kitchen...

GROSS: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Mr. FALLON: ...that everyone has. It's, like, why even have that fake drawer?
It fakes me out. It's, like, come on. I try to pull it. I try to open it. It's
just a - I don't know. It's just a fake drawer.

But, I mean, like, those types of things. So we start - made a list of, like,
we do like 10 every Friday. And we just did it the first Friday, and it worked.
And you could see, like, the response on Twitter and on Facebook. The fans
really liked it. They go: I love your thank-you notes. That's really a cool
idea.

And we were like: Guys, I think we kind of have our top-10 list, even though
it's just one night out of the week, but we have something.

GROSS: So do you make mental notes all week about things that bother you that
you can use for the thank-you notes?

Mr. FALLON: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Like if something just happens - like the other
day something happened. I bought a pack of gum, and the receipt, I'm not
kidding, was over a foot long.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: It might have been two-feet long of receipt paper, and I'm walking,
and you could hear it. You could hear me as I'm walking around the store with
this receipt. I go: I bought a pack of gum. This is insane. This is out -
you're killing the rainforest for my Orbits. And it was just the most insane
thing ever. I go, come on.

And there was like coupons on the back. I go: This has just reached a level of
insanity. So I'm sure there'll be a thank-you note for that. But, you know,
certain things like that are - you know, if I hold the door for somebody, and
they don't say thank you, you know, I figure I've got to write something about
that, you know.

Or the other day, we were laughing at - do you ever go down the hallway at
work, and there's someone walking at the same speed as you and right next to
you? So we're almost, like, walking together. And I don't know who they are.
And it's like: Should we hold hands?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: Like what are we - are you going to slow down? Do I speed up? How
does this work? Like, what is going on? One of us has to make a decision, here.
So those types of things, like, you know, they're just random, but you go: Oh,
yeah. There should be a joke somewhere about this.

GROSS: Okay. You had to learn how to do interviews from...

Mr. FALLON: I mean, help me with this Terry, because this is not an easy thing.

GROSS: Let's talk about doing interviews. What did you have to learn to do it,
and how hard do you think it is?

Mr. FALLON: Holy moley. Holy moley.

GROSS: As an interviewer, I really want to hear you talk about this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: I mean, it is - it's hard. I think probably the best advice you can
give somebody who's getting into is you won't learn how to do it until you do
it, because I was trying to practice.

I mean, I would sit to the left of my wife every night at dinner and look at
her and try to ask her about her food and stuff. But, I mean, you don't really
know what it's like until you're actually in the situation and talking to
people and just letting the conversation...

GROSS: So you didn't do it all until you were doing it on the air?

Mr. FALLON: Yeah, I mean, yeah. That's right. I tried. I didn't know what to
do. I mean, interview strangers. I interviewed my mom. I mean, what do I do? I
mean, I don't know who else to interview.

I mean, you know what? The best practice I had - well, it's true. I mean, I
don't know how...

GROSS: Was she a good guest? Would she be a good guest?

Mr. FALLON: She was an awful guest. She was an awful guest. She kept wanting to
cut to a clip, and we have no clip. She's not in a movie. She's my mother.

GROSS: One of the things I love about your show is it gives you an opportunity
to do your music impressions. You're amazing when it comes to doing music
impressions of people like Neil Young and Bob Dylan. So let's just hear an
example of it first. So this is you doing the Willow Smith song, "Whip My
Hair." And she's the daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith.

Mr. FALLON: Yeah, it's a very good hip-hop song. It goes...

(Singing) I whip my hair back and forth. I whip my hair back - yeah. It's a
big, hit song. So this is me doing Neil Young, doing "Whip My Hair" with Bruce
Springsteen.

GROSS: Okay. So, here it is.

(Soundbite of applause)

(Soundbite of song, "Whip My Hair")

Mr. FALLON: (Singing) I whip my hair back and forth, whip my hair back and
forth. Whip my hair back and forth. Whip my hair back and forth, whip it real
good.

How about that...

GROSS: So that's Jimmy Fallon doing Neil Young. We didn't have time here for
the Springsteen part. Maybe we'll get to that a little later. So what's so
interesting about how you do this is you're not only doing Neil Young's voice,
you're re-writing the song the way Neil Young would sing it, because he's such
an idiosyncratic singer in terms of the way he re-melodicizes things.

So can you talk about, like, doing Neil Young?

Mr. FALLON: Yeah. I always kind of had a Neil Young impression - like, everyone
does, you know. But he's a great writer.

GROSS: I don't.

Mr. FALLON: Oh, come on. You must have sang along with a few songs. I've heard
you do "Harvest Moon."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: But, I mean, so I've always just had - as an impressionist, you
kind of - I think every impressionist has a Neil Young, let's just say that.

And - but you never know what to do with it, you know, once you have it. It's
like doing a - having a Jack Nicholson impression. Everyone's got one. What do
you do with it?

So there's a great writer - let's just say a tip of the hat to my writing
staff. A writer said: Why don't you do a version of Neil Young, we'll do a nice
version of Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair"? And I go: Oh, that's funny. Let's -
that'd be cool. I go: Also, Bruce Springsteen's coming on. Would - do you think
he would do a duet, like, with me, if we wrote a fake duet with me as fake Neil
Young and him really as him? He goes: Let's get to it.

So we sat down. We had a guitar, he had a guitar, and we just sat around my
office, and I'm trying to think of, like, how Neil would do it. And it's a lot
of G chord into D chords, and maybe throw in like an A-minor in there. And it's
like: (singing) Whip my hair back and forth. Just whip it.

You know, and they get the harmonica going, the harmonica thing around the
neck. And then I go - and Bruce has got to come in. He's got to go, like:
(singing) You've got to whip your hair - whip my hair back and forth. You've
got to whip your hair.

You know, he's got to jump in with that energy. I go - and so we recorded it on
our phone, you know, with just a scratch recording of me and him, and we were
laughing, and we recorded the thing, and we send it over to Bruce Springsteen's
manager.

And Bruce Springsteen, his manager gets it, and he goes: Bruce loves it. He
thinks it's hilarious. His kids know "Whip My Hair," and so - and he's seen you
do Neil Young on the show, and he's game. He goes: Here's our idea. Do you want
Bruce to dress like young Bruce from the '70s?

So I - right out - my mouth is - my jaw's - I'm, like, of course. Yeah. I
didn't even think that he would even put on a - I mean, when are you going to
get Bruce Springsteen in a wig? I'm telling you right now...

GROSS: And a fake moustache and beard.

Mr. FALLON: Yeah, and a fake beard. And, I mean, this is from the "Born to Run"
era, you know, floppy hat. This is cover of Newsweek and Time magazine Bruce
Springsteen, where you go: Whoa. This is the future of rock and roll Bruce
Springsteen.

So the fact that he's game for this, I go: Okay, we'll get a beard, and we'll
get - he goes: And we'll get a floppy hat. I go, no problem. He goes: And Bruce
said he's going to bring his sunglasses from the "Born to Run" tour.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's so great.

Mr. FALLON: His actual, mirrored sunglasses. I go: Okay. He's game. So he comes
over. We have great hair-and-makeup girls. Cindy Lou(ph) and Courtney(ph) are
in there. They put the - he brings his sunglasses out. They tape a beard on
him, because he didn't want to put glue on his face. So he has a beard taped to
him. And he goes: You got the floppy hat?

And we put the floppy hat on him. He goes: Whoa, this looks exactly like it.
This is great. This is great. I go: Also, we have a wig. Do you want to try the
wig on? He goes: No, no, no. What are you trying to do to me? No, I don't want
to wear a wig. I don't want to wear it.

I go: Okay, no problem, no big deal. So everyone leaves the room. It's just me
and Bruce. We're kind of laughing. And the doors close, and I go: Hey, it's
just us. You want to just try the wig on?

He goes, what? I go: Just try the wig. I mean, it's got curls on it. It'll be -
I think it'll look - it'll be the final touch. He goes: All right, hurry up.
Put the wig on.

So I put a wig on Bruce Springsteen, and I'm putting this wig on him, and he's
laughing. And then we put the floppy hat and the beard and the glasses, and he
looks in the mirror, and he goes: Whoa. And that was it.

GROSS: And then to top it all off, Springsteen throws in a little "Thunder
Road" thing toward the end.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: Yeah.

GROSS: So why don't we hear the part where Bruce Springsteen comes in and joins
you as Neil Young?

(Soundbite of song, "Whip My Hair")

Mr. FALLON and Mr. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (Musician): (Singing) Whip my hair back
and forth. Whip my hair back and forth.

Mr. FALLON: (Singing) Whip it real good. All my ladies, can you feel me?

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Whip your hair.

Mr. FALLON: (Singing) Doing it, doing it, whip your hair.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Whip your hair.

Mr. FALLON: (Singing) Don't matter if it's long or short.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Whip your hair.

Mr. FALLON: (Singing) Doing it, doing it with your hair.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Whip your hair. Whip my hair.

GROSS: So that's such a great moment. Were there Neil Young records you just
steeped yourself in before doing that? Do you listen to a lot of the performer
you're going to do before you do them?

Mr. FALLON: Yeah. I think I have one of those things - when I grew up - you
know, I've always done impressions. So I think if I listen to a record long
enough - so I go - I'll listen to "Harvest," and I'll listen to the whole
album, and then I could do Neil Young. You know, I can listen to, you know,
"Blonde on Blonde," you know, and I'll do Bob Dylan.

You know, I can watch an episode of Jerry Seinfeld, and by the end, I'm just
walking around my house, you know, talking like Jerry Seinfeld. What is that?
What are you doing? Who is it? What's going - you know, I just have that thing,
when I grew up, I'd just start talking like people. You know, I always had
that.

I would go visit a friend of mine's house, and I'd come back, and my mom would
like: You're talking like Joey Gonzalez, because I would sound like my best
friend. I would just imitate him, you know.

GROSS: So if you're just joining us, my guest is Jimmy Fallon, the host of
"Late Night," and he has a new book called "Thank You Notes." And "Thank You
Notes" are his Friday night regular feature, really funny, and they're in his
new book.

So let's take a short break, here. Then we'll talk some more. Okay?

Mr. FALLON: Cool.

GROSS: Okay. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Jimmy Fallon, who first became known as a cast member of
"Saturday Night Live," where he co-anchored "Weekend Update" with Tina Fey.
Since 2009, he's hosted NBC's "Late Night." Every Friday on the show, he reads
his thank-you notes, addressed to things that have made him grateful during the
week. Now they're collected in the new book "Thank You Notes."

Now, I read that the first imitation you did was James Cagney, and I thought
that's crazy, because when I was growing up - and I'm older than you are - all
the impressionists did Cagney, you dirty rat. And that was, like, during the Ed
Sullivan-era. You didn't grow up during the...

Mr. FALLON: Frank Gorshin, yeah.

GROSS: Yeah, you didn't grow up during that era. You grew up during the
"Saturday Night Live" era, when people were no longer doing James Cagney. So
how did you end up doing Cagney impressions?

Mr. FALLON: It's more of a - it's a technicality. I did it - I was two years
old when I did that impression. So I was a baby. And my mom would say: Jimmy,
do James Cagney. And I would go: You dirty rat.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: So I already had an act. I already had an act, at two years old.
And then I did...

GROSS: How did you know about Jimmy Cagney then?

Mr. FALLON: I grew up in an Irish-Catholic family, and I think they force you
to watch every James Cagney movie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: I mean: Come on, kids. Come on in.

GROSS: "Yankee Doodle Dandy," too?

Mr. FALLON: Oh, of course. Song and dance. That's the advanced years of Cagney.
Yeah. But you start off with the gangster movies. I mean, every kid loves a
good gangster movie.

GROSS: Who doesn't?

Mr. FALLON: But I mean, I watched, yeah, "Angels with Dirty Faces," "White
Heat." I've seen all of them. My favorite movie of all time, by the way, is
"City for Conquest."

GROSS: Oh. I haven't seen that.

Mr. FALLON: Kind of - it is such a good movie. He goes blind in the ring. His
girlfriend is a dancer on Broadway. She becomes famous. He goes blind. And then
he's a newsie. He's selling newspapers, and he smells her perfume. Oh, it's
heartbreaking. It is a great movie.

GROSS: Do you ever get into trouble with celebrities who you're imitating? Do
they ever, like, not like it and not take it as a compliment?

Mr. FALLON: You'd think they would. I just saw - recently, I did a Donald Trump
impression. And I saw Donald Trump. And it was - my impression was basically -
because I was thinking, as the president got on and announced that Osama bin
Laden had been killed, he announced it right in - he interrupted the last 15
minutes of "The Celebrity Apprentice."

And I go: Man, this is perfect, right? I mean, that's a double-win for Obama.
So I said: We've got to do Trump. I've got to do some press conference where
he's like this is amazing, a beautiful, beautiful evening. The president - you
know, it's like, did you really have to interrupt the last 15 minutes of one of
the greatest boardrooms in the history of "Celebrity Apprentice"? Beautiful
people there, fantastic job.

And then he'll say, like: I mean, why couldn't you have waited until the show
that's on after me, which is - let's see what it is. Let's see what's on after
me. Oh yeah, the news. Why couldn't you have interrupted the news with the
news?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: So I did that. So I saw Donald Trump at some event. And I go: Hey,
Mr. Trump. I do an impression of you tonight on the show. And he goes: Oh, you
do great impressions. I go: Yeah, but I'm doing you tonight on the show. I just
want to let you know.

And he turns around to his whole table, he goes: Jimmy Fallon's doing an
impression of me tonight on his - I go: Will you stop it? I'm trying to tell
you something man-to-man, so that you don't get caught off-guard. I don't want
you to be upset. I don't want you to announce it to everybody.

But I think he knows that, like, when I do an impression of people, I - number
one, I never kick anyone when they're down. I either kick them when they're up
and they don't mind, or I don't hit them that hard. My jokes aren't that mean-
spirited.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Jimmy Fallon, the host of "Late
Night," and he has a new book called "Thank You Notes," and it's the thank-you
notes from his regular, hilarious, Friday-night feature.

Mr. FALLON: Thank you, Terry. Terry, did you ever have a different voice when
you were starting in radio?

GROSS: Yes.

Mr. FALLON: What was your other voice? Was it wackier?

GROSS: It wasn't wacky. It was just kind of more like this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I would - when I get nervous, my voice - anyways, this used to be the
case. When I'd get nervous, my voice would rise approximately an octave. And
I'd speak, like, really super-fast. So - you know, and when I started hosting
the show, it was - when I started to host on a college station, I was hosting,
like, a feminist radio show, and I - but I was talking kind of like this. So I
always thought I sounded kind of like a feminist Minnie Mouse.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: That is great, because I always loved - I'm obsessed with radio. I
love radio so much. And as a comedian, I used to have to do radio, like,
morning zoo crew shows at, like, seven in the morning.

GROSS: As a guest, not as a...

Mr. FALLON: As a guest, just so I can plug the tickets to - so I can sell a
comedy show. You know, I was doing comedy clubs when I was, like, you know, 18
and 19. So I'd have to sell them out, and I'd have to go on radio shows. I'm
like: Good morning. We're here with Jimmy Fallon on the air, and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: And Jimmy, I mean - you know, let me tell you something. "Saturday
Night Live" isn't funny anymore. Our weatherman hates your guts. He's like:
Yeah, I don't like you, Jimmy Fallon. You know, and I'd have to get in fights
at seven in the morning, you know.

It's like - and they'd try to be shocking. They're like: So, anyway, I was
getting my prostate checked the other day. It's 7:15 in the a.m. I've got - and
I go: You've got to be kidding me? Who wants to hear about this guy's - and
they're the nicest people off the air. They'd be like: Hey, Jimmy, thanks for
being here at the Z, Z103. You're the greatest. "Saturday Night Live" couldn't
be funnier. Thank you so much. Are you ready to be on the air?

I go: I'm ready to be on the air. Okay, perfect. Here we go. We're going to be
on the air in two seconds. Okay. And we're back. Jimmy Fallon here. He's on
"Saturday Night Dead." That's what I call it, because it hasn't been funny in
15 years.

You know, and it's like, I go: You just told me over the commercial break that
you liked it.

GROSS: Is that what you'd actually say?

Mr. FALLON: No. I would actually try to defend the show stupidly, because I
wasn't old enough to figure out that this is all a game. It's just like: Okay,
he's just trying to rattle me so that he can get a good quote out of me.

GROSS: Jimmy Fallon will be back in the second half of the show. His new book,
"Thank You Notes," collects the messages of gratitude he reads every Friday
night on his NBC show "Late Night."

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross back with Jimmy Fallon the host of
NBC's “Late Night.” Every Friday night, he does a feature called “Thank You
Notes,” in which he writes messages to things that have made him grateful
during the week. Now he has a new book collecting them called “Thank You
Notes.” Fallon was on "Saturday Night Live" from 1998 to 2004. He co-anchored
“Weekend Update” with Tina Fey.

So you loved "Saturday Night Live" as a kid, right, and you used to do
reenactments of the sketches in your home?

Mr. FALLON: I was obsessed with the show. And this is back when VCRs just
started to come out. A VCR, by the way, for anyone listening, is a video
cassette recorder.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: If you didn’t know what a VCR is. But we used to – so we had the
VCR and you have to press play and record to record the show, and I remember
just like being obsessed with "Saturday Night Live” and my parents would tape
it and they would watch it and just kind of cut out the - any sketches that
were risque or dirty or things that we shouldn't see. And then the ones that
were clean, we would be able to watch the sketch, me and my sister Gloria,
who’s my only sister, just the two of us and my mom and dad. And so we just got
obsessed with the, you know, the Czech Brothers.

We would say stuff that’s risque that we had no idea was risque. Like we would
dress up in our parents’ like '70s disco clothes and like walk around like, we
are two wild and crazy guys.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: You know, and like we’d put on shows in front of our family and go
like we have to go to Statue of Liberty to get birth control devices.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: And my grandmother would like almost have a heart attack. Like,
what are these kids, you know, and we had no idea what that was. And, but we
would just do it just to be funny and see our parents laugh.

And I remember, I was a weird kid. I used to go to garage sales all the time
with my mother. We used to walk around our neighborhood in Socrates, New York,
upstate, and I remember if I had any money or anything, you know, I bought a
reel-to-reel cassette, a reel-to-reel recorder and I used to bring the reel-to-
reel home and I would tape the monologues, like Richard Pryor and Steve Martin,
you know, and different sketches, you know. And I'd go up to my bedroom and I'd
play them back and I'd lip sync them in the mirror. You know, just do it,
pretending I was on the show and I think that obsession grew as I got older.

GROSS: So how did you get to actually audition for "Saturday Night Live?"

Mr. FALLON: I moved out to Los Angeles, I dropped out of college my senior
year, my friend Peter Iselin. I worked for a news weekly in Albany, New York
called Metroland and I was the secretary there. I used to answer the phones and
stuff like that and so he was leaving. He’s becoming a manager in L.A. and I
gave him my tape and resume and my headshot, which was awful. My first
headshot, it’s gosh, I'm wearing so much makeup it’s insane. I look like Tammy
Faye Baker.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: But it’s - so I gave him all the stuff and he got up to L.A. and
they called me and they said hey, we saw your tape. This girl Randy Segal,
she’s like we’d love you to come out to L.A. and take acting classes and stuff
like that and I, you know, took classes in the Groundlings, which is like
Second City, but the Los Angeles version. So I said great.

She goes well, what do you want to do? What’s your career? Do you have any
goals? I'm like I want to be on "Saturday Night Live." And she was like, right.
Okay, what else do you want to do? What really do you want to do? I was like,
no, that's it. She goes like yeah, that’s just like one in a million chance you
get on "Saturday Night Live" so I mean you should have another goal. And I'm
like that’s all I really want to do. That’s my goal. I mean that was my goal
since I was probably 14 or 15. If I ever blew out candles on a cake or wished
upon a falling star or threw a coin in a well, I'd say I want to be on
"Saturday Night Live."

GROSS: So how did you actually get the audition for Lorne Michaels?

Mr. FALLON: So then through tapes and my manager, I - they set up an audition
in front of Lorne. It was at a comedy club out here in New York City called the
Comic Strip. And I went and it bombed. I had one act and I just did impressions
of different people auditioning for a commercial, for a troll doll. Do you
remember those troll dolls with the fuzzy hair?

GROSS: Yep.

Mr. FALLON: So I would do different impressions. I'd do like Bill Cosby going
like we know the people to take the troll. He’s sitting there with
(unintelligible) with hey, man.

You know, and so I'd go like, you know, next up, you know, I think at the time
I was doing Pee Wee Herman. I'm like heh heh. (Unintelligible). I like to play
with myself. You know, or whatever.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: That was the ender. And so I did this bit. It didn’t work. It
bombed. And, but it turns out they were actually looking for a different type
of cast member. That year Tracy Morgan got hired. And then I was depressed.

And I went back out to L.A. and then they called back up and they said we’d
like to see Jimmy again but tell him not to do the troll bit. We’ve seen the
troll stuff. Like, okay. So I was just so excited I got a second chance so I
did a celebrity walk-a-thon. So I did different celebrities - so I got to come
back to Studio 8H and audition for Lorne Michaels on the stage where I've seen
Richard Pryor do the monologue. I've seen Gilda Radner be funny. I've seen
Steve Martin come out with the arrow through his head. You know, this is a
legendary thing. So I figure if I don't get this job it doesn't matter. This is
an experience. I'll never forget this.

So I go out and I do the celebrity impressions. I do - because that was my
thing, I wanted to be like the next Dana Carvey. So I did all my impressions
and I get up to my last impression and it’s Adam Sandler. And at the time no
one did Adam Sandler. He was still on the cast. I think “Billy Madison” just
came out or was about to come out. So I go, next up Adam Sandler. And I go: how
you doing? I, you know, my mother used to take me all the time and to the walk-
a-thon and she would be like hey, hoo, who the devil is you? And then I'd go
shut up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: You know, so I did this impression and Lorne Michaels starts to
laugh and he puts his head in his hand and he’s laughing. And I go, wow. This
is cool. Like if nothing else happens that happened. And the rest of the day
was in slow motion for me. I was like walking on clouds and it was like, it was
like an episode of “The Wonder Years.” It was like a “Wonder Years. It was like

(Singing) What would you do if...

Mr. FALLON: It was like, you know, me and Paul never talked again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: You know, the whole Winnie Cooper was happening. It was like black,
it was in sepia-tone. It was like so super 8. It was so great I just, and then
I got a, Marcy(ph), the first girl that came and told me - she goes, that was
one of the best auditions I've ever seen.

GROSS: My guest is Jimmy Fallon, the host of NBC’s “Late Night.” His new book
is called “Thank You Notes.” We’ll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Jimmy Fallon, the host of “Late
Night,” and he has a new book called “Thank You Notes.” It’s a collection of
his “Thank You Notes” from his regular Friday night feature.

So once you got on "Saturday Night Live" you wanted to be on it like all your
life. You grew up wanting to be on it. You’re finally on it. Was it hard to
find a place for yourself? I've interviewed a lot of people who've been on
"Saturday Night Live" and most of them complain that in the first period it was
really hard to get stuff written for them. It was hard to get on air. That it
was hard to...

Mr. FALLON: Yeah.

GROSS: ...like figure out who they were within this cast.

Mr. FALLON: Yeah. I mean I think when I first got on I was the impressions guy,
so I would just do impressions. So if they needed an impression they would call
me. So if they needed Robin Williams, I would be like: Oh thank you. Yes,
suddenly there’s a guy going no, thank you. Yes, oh, Mr. Happy’s going no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: It’s (unintelligible) yes. And so and one, two, three and bong,
kick and chain. Thank you.

So, you know, I'd do that, so I would be that guy. And then second season I
tried to branch out. Of course, you know, everyone just gets in the way of
themselves. I said no more impressions. I want to do original characters. So I
did like a guy who fixes your computer, like an IT guy at the office who’s
annoying. Because you know those guys always come in. They just make fun of
you. And they fix your computer but they make you feel like a fool. Because
like, did you press X6, escape?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: And you go. No, I have no idea. You’re the computer guy. Yeah. Duh.
The printer’s now working. You know, you go whatever buddy. So I did him and
then, then I started...

GROSS: You majored in computer sciences for a while, right?

Mr. FALLON: Yeah, that was my major in college. I loved - I...

GROSS: So were you that guy who'd say did you press X6?

Mr. FALLON: Kind of but I was nicer to people. I was like I could tell if
people didn’t understand. I'd be like, I’ll fix it. But a thing that they
always say, which is correct, they go, move, so that you get out of the way...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: ...and let them sit in your chair and fix it, which is kind of what
I do. I'd go, well, just, can I just sit in your chair and I’ll fix the whole
thing. But you see those people, they're so cocky, they're so proud, they're so
- big deal, you could fix my printer. I don’t care. This is - don’t make me
feel like a jackass. So...

GROSS: So you started doing characters.

Mr. FALLON: So I started doing characters and then “Weekend Update” happened.
Colin Quinn was leaving “Weekend Update” and Lorne said Jimmy, I think you’d be
great at doing “Weekend Update.” And I go, I don’t think so. I don’t really
read the newspaper that much. I don’t know much about the news. I'm the worst
person for “Weekend Update.” Thank you so much, but no thank you. I'd rather
not do it.

So they had auditions. So they had a bunch of people, the writers, a couple
writers were auditioning. One of the writers auditioning was Tina Fey. So she
was just a writer at the time who wrote a lot of stuff for me, and she was
super fun and super, super, super funny and super hardworking. And she had this
sharp, sharp wit. I mean almost too sharp for “Weekend Update” just to be by
herself at the time. So I saw her audition and I was like man, did you see
Tina’s audition was amazing. It was hilarious. She did this thing about Britney
Spears. She did a thing about Britney Spears about how enjoy your body while
you have it because one day you’re going to lose it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: She goes one day, I mean right now look at your butt, look at your
butt. She goes you want - you have to look at that thing through a hole in a
paper plate, which I love that reference.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: And so that just made me laugh. So anyway, I said to Lorne, I go,
he goes I really think you should still do it because Tina’s not on the show.
No one knows who she is. She’s the head writer. I go, what about maybe me and
Tina? And he’s like yeah, I like that. I would see what that’s like. I like
that idea.

So he set up a test screening of me and Tina Fey and I in Conan O’Brien’s
studio over a weekend and we did this like a test run of what our “Weekend
Update” would be like. And he goes, Lorne says, I think it would be great
because she’s the smart one and you’re the guy who forgot to do his homework
and you need to cheat off her. That’s the dynamic.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. FALLON: I go, great. And we got together and man, it just clicked. It just
worked. And I just, I felt it. She felt it. I go, man, this is just so fun.

GROSS: Tina Fey recently said on our show that when she started doing “Weekend
Update” it changed her life because that’s the only position on "Saturday Night
Live" where you look into the camera and you say your name, so everybody knows
your name.

Mr. FALLON: Yeah. I mean Chevy Chase, I mean he got famous off of one season.

GROSS: Yeah. So did it change you to say, and I'm Jimmy Fallon?

Mr. FALLON: Yeah. It really is. I mean we were on a magazine cover in that year
and the next year. I mean it blew up. I mean I couldn’t have been more popular
on the show. It was the best because then people start seeing your old stuff
and they go oh, yeah, he also does Barry Gibb and he does, you know, that’s the
guy that did, you know, the Adam Sandler or the songs and, you know, so they
start putting two and two together in a different way.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. FALLON: So and you have to be kind of more of your sense of humor, you
know, because I'm used to playing characters and other people, which is - which
really helped me, I think, for this talk show. Because when you host a talk
show, as you know, you can't be phony. You have to be honest and you have to be
yourself. It comes through. I mean because eventually you go like, you know
what? Somebody will come for a cooking segment on my show and they put
mayonnaise and I go yuk, I hate mayonnaise. Just that right there is like just
being honest saying like whoa, you don’t like mayonnaise? Like you’re not like
Mr. I Like Everything. Like I hate mayonnaise. I think it’s the most disgusting
condiment that exists. But I can just say that because why not? That’s who I
am. And it’s like, you know, I don’t know.

GROSS: So after years and years of wanting to be on "Saturday Night Live,"
you’re on it, you’re a big success, you’re hosting “Update,” and you leave
after about six years.

Mr. FALLON: Yeah.

GROSS: Which is...

Mr. FALLON: Well, I contracted six years but I'm such a fan of John Belushi. I
love John Belushi and he was only on for three seasons, so in my head I always
said I just want to do three seasons and leave.

GROSS: Why did you want to leave? I mean you wanted this all your life and you
finally got it? Why did you want to get off of it eventually?

Mr. FALLON: Because I've just heard so many horror stories about how people
hate it and they hate each other and they get in fights and they get in
arguments and they hate the show.

GROSS: What, do they stay too long?

Mr. FALLON: I don’t know. Yeah, I guess, I don’t know what's the problem, but I
didn’t have that problem up to that point, so I go, I just want to leave now
while everything's happy. I'm friends with everybody. I mean who knows...

GROSS: Was it hard when you left to then watch the show and not be on it?

Mr. FALLON: Oh, that’s where the drinking started.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: No, no, no, no, no. But that's - but that was a very - it’s just
depressing because yeah, you watch and you go like, I miss all those guys
because gosh, you spend so much time in the office with these people and you
sleep over. I mean it’s like, I mean I slept in my office I don’t know how many
times at "Saturday Night Live." You know, me and Horatio were officemates
through the whole time, I miss him. You know, and I'd see these bits and I'd go
ah, I do an impression of Howard Stern or I could've done that or oh man, that
was a good joke. I wish I had told it, you know. You know, you’re happy for
everybody but you’re always, you’re also jealous of everybody and you go, man.
And then, you know, but, you know, I don’t know, it’s just, it’s a tough thing.
But I think it was the right decision because I did stay friends with
everybody, with Lorne, and Tina.

And I remember when I was leaving Lorne said, so what are you going to do? I
said well, I’ll try movies or something. I don’t know. And he goes would you
ever think of maybe like hosting a talk show? I go no, what do you mean? He’s
like well, Conan O’Brien just signed this deal for like he’s going to take over
“The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” in nine years. And I go, oh, okay – or in five
years or some crazy amount.

GROSS: I think it’s five years.

Mr. FALLON: He goes...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. FALLON: Yeah. So he goes, so I go all right, well, in five years ask me
again. But I don't know, sure. And Tina, I remember Tina Fey was there and she
goes, she goes, I think you'd be good at that because you've got that Irish
charm. You're always talking to everybody. I go, oh, whatever. I'm going to try
movies now and we'll see what happens. So tried movies. Had fun. I met my wife
on one movie I made, "Fever Pitch." And...

GROSS: She was Drew Barrymore's producing partner.

Mr. FALLON: Yeah. Her name is Nancy Juvonen and she was just a cute girl on the
set and I was like, I just thought she was always nice. We didn't, you know, we
didn't do anything on the set. We just were very professional but then we were
selling the movie in London and I saw her again and I go, oh man, I miss
hanging out with you. She goes I miss hanging out with you too. I go, yeah, I
like hanging out. She goes I like hanging out with you, and then we kind of
fell in love from there and just like took it from there.

GROSS: And so you got your show after Conan moved to "The Tonight Show," and...

Mr. FALLON: Yes.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. FALLON: Lorne said, what do you think? Would you like to do this? And I
said absolutely. I asked my wife. She goes - I said, what do you think? Should
I do this? She goes, of course, you're one of three people, David Letterman,
Conan O'Brien and then you. That's it. I mean there's nobody else.

GROSS: So now that you have a daily show or a nightly show, what do you no
longer have time for in your life?

Mr. FALLON: Anything.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. FALLON: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: I have to schedule, if I want to do something I have to schedule it
in my day, because it's a packed day. So if I want to play video games, I have
to schedule and go, all right, I'm going to play video games from 8 o'clock to
8:30. But I can't do that because that's when I usually get to see my wife, so
it's got to be after, my wife loves – I get home from work usually, I get into
work probably around 10 o'clock, 10:30, and I get home probably around 9
o'clock earliest. Sometimes we do pre-tapes on the show of - if we're spoofing
"Jersey Shore" or we're making fun of, you know, "Lost" or, you know, we've
done spoofs on all these things, so sometimes I get home like midnight. But,
you know, when I get home early I like to hang out with my wife and we watch
just awesome reality shows on TiVo, "Real Housewives," all that stuff, "Jersey
Shore." We watch all that stuff.

GROSS: Do you really watch - I was just wondering if you really watched "Jersey
Shore" or if you just...

Mr. FALLON: I love "Jersey Shore."

GROSS: Right. Because you parody it on the show. Yeah.

Mr. FALLON: But the reason why I love it is because I have nothing in common
with these people.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. FALLON: I'm fascinated. It's like watching "National Geographic."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: I go this, I want to see how they live in the wild. This is like,
because like The Situation will go by a club, he'll be like nah, I don't want
to go in there. There's too – there's not enough people in there. And I'm like,
I'm the opposite. I'm like there is too many people in that bar. I'm not going
to go in that bar.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: I want to go to a place where no one is.

GROSS: My guest is Jimmy Fallon, the host of NBC's "Late Night." His new book
is called "Thank You Notes."

We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Jimmy Fallon, the host of NBC's "Late Night." His new book
is called "Thank You Notes.”

You were described in an article in Rolling Stone as the least tortured
comedian imaginable. Would you agree with that description of yourself?

Mr. FALLON: I think if I ever went to therapy you'd find something. But yeah,
I've had a pretty, you know, I love my parents, I love my childhood, I love my
sister. You know, I mean I got picked on like any kid would get picked on in
school but not that much. I mean I got in some fights but not that many fights.
I think I had a pretty normal childhood. I mean I have no, it's not, my life
isn't "Angela's Ashes."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: You know, that guy. I mean come on, they're eating a hard-boiled
egg, you know, I had it easier than that. I didn't have it that bad.

GROSS: So you went to Catholic school when you were young.

Mr. FALLON: Oh yeah.

GROSS: Did you have...

Mr. FALLON: I wanted to be a priest.

GROSS: Did you really?

Mr. FALLON: Yeah. I loved it.

GROSS: Why?

Mr. FALLON: I just, I loved the church. I loved the idea of it. I loved the
smell of the incense. I loved the feeling you get when you left church. I loved
like how this priest can make people feel this good. I just thought it was, I
loved the whole idea of it. My grandfather was very religious, so I used to go
to mass with him at like 6:45 in the morning – serve mass and then you made
money too if you did weddings and funerals. They'd give you, you'd get like
five bucks. And so I go okay, I can make money too. I go this could be a good
deal for me. I thought I had the calling.

GROSS: Do you think part of that calling was really show business? 'Cause like
the priest is the performer at church.

Mr. FALLON: Yeah. You know what - I really – Terry, I'm, I recently thought
about this. Again, I've never been to therapy but I guess that would be, it's
being on stage. It's my first experience on stage is as an altar boy. You're on
stage next to the priest, I'm a co-star.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: I'm, I've got...

GROSS: Also starring Jimmy Fallon.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: Yeah, I have no lines but I ring bells. I ring bells and I swing
the incense around. But it was my - and you know, you are performing. You enter
through a curtain, you exit through the, I mean you're backstage. I mean have
you ever seen backstage behind an alter? It's kind of fascinating.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. FALLON: So I think it was, I think it was my first taste of show business
and I think - or acting or something.

GROSS: And there are comparisons, I think, between a theater and a church.
There are just kind of places that are separated from outside reality.

Mr. FALLON: Yeah. And I remember I had a hard time keeping a straight face at
church as well.

GROSS: Did you?

Mr. FALLON: Which - yeah...

GROSS: Did you do imitations of the priest?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: Oh, of course. Yeah. I used to do Father McFadden all the time.
He's the fastest talking priest ever. He's be like...

(Soundbite of mumbling)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: And then you leave and you go, that - what was that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: That guy's the best. I mean that was church? Sign me up. I'll do
church – I'll do it 10 times a day if that's church. He was great.

GROSS: Do you still go to church?

Mr. FALLON: I don't go to - I tried to go back. When I was out in L.A. and I
was like kind of struggling for a bit I went to church for a while, but it's
kind of, it's gotten gigantic now for me. It's like too, there's a band.
There's a band there now and you got to, you have to hold hands with people
through the whole mass now, and I don't like doing that. You know, I mean it
used to be the shaking hands piece was the only time you touched each other.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. FALLON: Now I'm holding – now I'm lifting people. Like Simba.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: I'm holding them – (Singing) ha nah hey nah ho.

(Speaking) I'm – I'm doing too much. I don't want - there's Frisbees being
thrown, there's beach balls going around, people waving lighters, and I go this
is too much for me. I want the old way. I want to hang out with the, you know,
with the nuns, you know, that was my favorite type of mass, and the Grotto and
just like straight up, just mass-mass.

GROSS: I want to end with another clip of you doing an impression, and this is
you doing Bob Dylan singing the theme from "Charles in Charge."

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: The old Tony Danza show. It's so funny.

Mr. FALLON: That's Scott Baio, actually.

GROSS: Scott Baio?

Mr. FALLON: Scott Baio was Charles.

GROSS: Oh, I'm thinking it's the Tony Danza one.

Mr. FALLON: "Who's the Boss." You're thinking of "Who's the Boss."

GROSS: Oh, I'm thinking of "Who's the Boss."

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You're right. I'm thinking of "Who's the Boss."

Mr. FALLON: Yeah. Exactly. But poor Tony Danza though, he played Tony in every
TV show he was on.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. FALLON: Can't you give him a different Italian name?

GROSS: So...

Mr. FALLON: Why does he always have to be Tony?

GROSS: So why "Charles in Charge?" Why Dylan in "Charles in Charge"?

Mr. FALLON: Well, it's almost the same thing as the Neil thing, is that I can
do an impression of Bob Dylan, but we wanted to pick something that was fun and
different. And we just thought that there was that one cadence of Charles in
charge of our days and our nights, Charles in charge of our wrongs and our
rights. Those are the words to the theme song. And we were just laughing, me
and this writer, Mike DiCenzo. And he was going like, Charles in charge of our
days and our nights, of our wrongs and our rights. And it's like it kind of...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: It sounds like a Dylan thing. So we did like a Dylan-esque version
of that where you had to play - the harmonica is different than Neil Young's
harmonica...

GROSS: Right. Right.

Mr. FALLON: ...whereas it's higher pitched and more screechy. And then it's
like, and then when he gets to that weird - like he stops saying words at some
point 'cause he's like...

(Singing) I want Charles in charge of me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: (Singing) I want Charles in charge of me.

(Speaking) And it's almost like a Jell-O thing or something in his throat at,
just certain points of his singing. And I'm a huge fan, of course, of Bob
Dylan. So the fact that we were able to pull this off, it came off pretty cool.
I was happy with the end result.

GROSS: Well, Jimmy Fallon, I think you're really incredible. Thank you so much
for talking with us.

Mr. FALLON: Oh, you're the best. This is so much fun. I feel like I actually
have inhaled fresh air.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Great. Thank you...

Mr. FALLON: This is phenomenal.

GROSS: Thank you so much. And Jimmy Fallon's new book is called "Thank You
Notes" and it's a collection of thank you notes from his regular hilarious
Friday night feature. And here is Jimmy Fallon as Bob Dylan.

Thank you again.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. FALLON: (Singing) New boy in the neighborhood. Lives downstairs and it's
understood. He's there just to take good care of me, like he's one of the
family. Charles in Charge of our days and our nights.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: (Singing) Charles in charge of our wrongs and our rights.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: (Singing) Charles in charge of our days and our nights, Charles in
charge of our wrongs and our rights. And I want Charles in charge of me.

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

Mr. FALLON: (Singing) And I want Charles in charge of me.

(Soundbite of harmonica)

GROSS: Jimmy Fallon is the host of NBC's "Late Night." His new book, "Thank You
Notes," collects the messages he reads every Friday night on his show. If you
want to see any of the sketches and impressions we talked about, you'll find
links on our website, freshair.npr.org, where you can also download podcasts of
our show.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
136462013

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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