TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Happy Thanksgiving. We wanted to play something really fun for the holiday. So we're going to listen back to my recent interview with Jimmy Fallon, the host of "The Tonight Show." We talked about "The Tonight Show" and lots of other things. But first, we talked about his new children's book, "Everything Is Mama."
It's his second book for children just beginning to learn language. Each page has an illustration of a mother animal teaching her baby animal a new word. The mother holds up an object or points to it and says what it is, like shoe or waffle or balloon. And instead of repeating the mother's words, the baby animal responds to each new word by saying mama. On the day the book was published, Shaquille O'Neal came on "The Tonight Show" and read the book out loud with Jimmy Fallon on his lap.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON")
SHAQUILLE O'NEAL: "Everything Is Mama" by Jimmy Fallon.
JIMMY FALLON: (Laughter) Oh, my gosh, yeah.
O'NEAL: Everything is mama, according to you.
O'NEAL: But there are other fun words y'all want to know, too.
O'NEAL: Sun, mama.
O'NEAL: Waffle, mama.
O'NEAL: Hat, mama.
FALLON: Mama. OK, OK. I'm getting tired.
O'NEAL: Shoes, mama.
FALLON: I'm getting tired now.
O'NEAL: And my favorite, yo, mama.
GROSS: Jimmy Fallon, welcome back to FRESH AIR. So...
FALLON: That was a moment.
GROSS: You were on Shaquille O'Neal's lap while (laughter) - I read you were...
FALLON: (Laughter) With that...
GROSS: How did you come up with that idea?
FALLON: ...I didn't know he wanted me to have him on his lap. I...
GROSS: You didn't know that?
FALLON: No. I knew that he was going to say something about the book or something like that 'cause he said, like, oh, I want to mention something about "DADA" or something because last time, he said that he enjoyed the "DADA" book or something. So I said sure. So I brought up the book "Mama" not knowing that he wanted me to sit on his lap.
He's like, of course, you know? How you want me to read this? Why don't you come up over here, and I'll show you how to read this book to you? And I was like, OK. I didn't know what he was going to do because he's lift me up before. He has - I mean, Shaquille O'Neal is a very big man. He can kind of do whatever he wants to me. I once put his suit blazer on just to see what it would look like on me. It was like I was wrapped in a - like a queen bed, like a sheet, like a comforter. It was like the largest thing ever, but it had sleeves.
FALLON: And it was amazing. So when I walked over, he goes, all right, just go ahead. Sit on my lap. So I just - oh, my goodness. So I - of course, I look like a little baby. He's holding me and it's - on his lap, and he's reading the book to me (laughter). So it just made me laugh.
GROSS: So why have you started writing children's books? Is it because you have children now and you've been reading to them?
FALLON: Yeah. It's fascinating. They're getting to that age now - they're 4 and 2 and a half - where they're actually starting to - the 4-year-old is starting to memorize books and kind of almost pretend like she is reading, you know? It's really interesting to - I'm literally watching someone learn how to read in front of me. And so we have so many books in our house, and she just goes through every word and turns the page and tells what's happening in the scene, points to words like - almost like if she knows how to read, which she doesn't yet. But she's - so I figured it would be kind of fun to have a children's book just so I can say, oh, this is something Daddy wrote and hopefully, you know, read with them, which I did.
The idea of the first book - I had a book called "Your Baby's First Word Will Be DADA," and the idea was it was a joke that husbands and wives or, you know, have a thing, an unspoken contest of what the baby's first word would be. Is it going to be mama? Is going to be dada? So I would love the baby's first word to be dada. It's just a selfish thing. And so I would go all around the house - our first child - and every time I saw her, if I'd give her her bottle or gave her food or changed her diaper, I would say, do you want a dada?
FALLON: Do you want me to dada? Is - do you want - is it time for a dada? I just kept saying the word dada, hopefully, you know, to maybe fake the kid out so that she just keeps repeating and saying the word dada. You know, I - at this point, I didn't care if the kid was unintelligent. I figured that...
FALLON: ...She would learn later on. But - so I did that. It did not work. And so I - turns out I'm not a very accomplished child psychologist like I thought I was.
GROSS: Or a very good father, apparently.
FALLON: Or, yeah, like, a very cruel father (laughter). So I - but then I put out a book called "Your Baby's First Word Will Be DADA" where it's just different animals doing animal sounds. And then the baby animals are saying dada back. And I said if I read this - I was lucky enough to have a second child, and I read this to the second child. And it worked. And the baby's first word was dada.
GROSS: Are you reading books to your children that were read to you when you were their age?
FALLON: Yes, the exact books in fact. I've saved my books from when I was a kid.
GROSS: Which ones?
FALLON: One of my favorites is - well, "There's A Monster At The End Of This Book" (ph) is the Grover book where he keeps warning you not to turn the page 'cause he's afraid. It's "Sesame Street." And he's crying. He's like, please don't turn the page. Please don't turn the page. Like, you know, there's a monster at the end of this book. So he starts building a wall so you don't open - you have to knock down the brick wall. And he's like, why are you doing this? Please don't turn the page again, you know? And then he's putting rope on the thing, and he's using wood. And he's hammering, like don't turn - there's a monster at the end of this book. Why are you - you know, and it turns out at the end, the monster is Grover.
FALLON: He is the monster at the end of the book. And he goes, and you were so scared. Of course, it's just me. You know, and it says - and I loved it 'cause it was funny. It taught me bravery, I guess, or, you know, to be brave (laughter). I just loved the book. And my kids love it to this day. I read them that all the time.
GROSS: My impression is you had a happy childhood. You've said you had a happy childhood.
FALLON: (Laughter) I really did. I know it's odd for a comedian.
GROSS: Yeah, that's what I was going to say. It's odd for a comedian. So many comedians run on depression, anger...
GROSS: ...Resentment and had, like, really difficult childhoods. Do you think that, like, your sense of humor was affected by the fact that you say you had a happy childhood?
FALLON: Yeah, I mean, to be really honest, Terry, if I went to therapy, maybe something would be on unearthed, but I don't think so. I think I really did have a happy childhood. I was always a happy kid.
GROSS: Jimmy, if you go to therapy, they'll unearth things about your happiness, too (laughter).
FALLON: OK, OK, good. So it's a double - OK, good.
GROSS: There's always something (laughter).
FALLON: It's a win-win - OK, good (laughter). Yeah, they'll get something in there, yeah. But I remember. We - there was a report card from kindergarten. And the comment from the teacher was, Jimmy smiles too much, which is very interesting. What an odd thing to say about a child. But I think, like, I would smile even when I was getting yelled at, you know, or told, like, hey, knock it off or stop fooling around. I would just, like, go, OK. I was just always a happy kid, you know?
GROSS: Do you think that being reasonably happy affected the kind of comedy you do?
FALLON: I think so, yeah. I mean, I was very - I don't know if it's prudish or, you know - I very, like - a lot of my material I know - I always thought of my parents seeing and my grandparents seeing. My grandparents helped raise me, you know? They lived in our backyard kind of. Like, they had a cottage right behind our house. And so I was always hanging out with my grandma and my grandpa every day, you know? They helped - they taught me how to drive and all that stuff growing up. And I just would hang out with them.
And I was a very kind of a clean comedian. I never cursed or said anything risque in my act just growing up. I mean, the older I've gotten, I've kind of expanded a little bit more. But my first couple acts was just very squeaky clean. I think it's kind of a - I was very happy that that's the way I was raised 'cause it's a tricky - I think it's harder to make those jokes and make comedy funny if you don't have any profanity or anything dirty.
GROSS: Do you remember anything from those early performances?
FALLON: Yeah, oh, my goodness. I mean, I started out - my mom heard about a contest on the radio, an impression contest. And she said, Jimmy, you should enter this impression contest. You have three minutes to do any impression. And you do all these voices in your bedroom. It'll be great. I'm like, hey, you can hear what I'm doing in my bedroom?
FALLON: But I'm like, OK, wait a second. Let's just stop there. I go - but I go, maybe I can do something. And someone gave me a troll doll 'cause I was graduating high school. I was probably 16 or 17 at the time. And they gave me a troll doll with a graduation cap on his head, like, go graduate. And it was a present. I don't know what I was going to do with this thing. But I took the hat off. And I took the diploma off. And I used that in my three-minute act. And I said, I'm going to do different impersonations of people trying to be the spokesperson for this troll doll.
So I would say, like, first up for the auditions, Jerry Seinfeld. And I'd go, OK, people, OK. Like, what kind of doll is this? He's got crazy hair. His arms and legs don't move. Who plays with this type of doll, you know? And then I'd go, next up, Pee-wee Herman. Like, (laughter) I like to play with these dolls. I like to play with myself, too...
FALLON: ...You know? And so I ended up - I won this contest. And so I was 17, I think, at the time. And I did three minutes. I did all - I did probably 12 impressions. And I won - I want to say it was, like, $700 or something crazy in three minutes. And I remember going home and laying the money out on my kitchen table. And we took a picture of it. And this is when - this is before digital photos, so, I mean, when you took a picture, it had to - this is it. You can't - it's not like you take 12 of them and pick the best one out.
So we have a photo of, like, all this, like, cash on my kitchen table and me standing behind it. Like, wow, is comedy this easy? I mean, I can just do three minutes and get $700. Like, that's amazing. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. And then it turns out, comedy's not that easy (laughter). It's like this is a rare thing.
GROSS: You know, it's funny, the other time that you were on our show before you were hosting "The Tonight Show," you talked about how when you auditioned for Lorne Michaels for "Saturday Night Live," you did the troll routine. And they didn't hire you. They hired Tracy Morgan. But they called you back for another audition. And Lorne said, but don't do the troll routine.
GROSS: Don't do the troll dolls.
FALLON: He said we've seen the troll doll bit, and we're fine with it. Move on. Let's do something else. And I was like, but that's all I have, all I have. For my whole life, I've been working on the troll routine. I mean, at this point, I was 23. So all of my experiences - I moved to LA. And I was, you know, working at the Improv out there on Melrose Avenue and taking lessons at The Groundlings and taking acting lessons with Gordon Hunt, Helen Hunt's dad, which was - honestly, Gordon Hunt probably thought I was an idiot. I went to this acting class.
And this was like - I was really studying, like, Uta Hagen and all these things about acting 'cause like look at me, right? So I go in, and I was really into James Dean at the time. I remember this. And I was like - and I go James Dean - I read all his biographies - he never acted in his acting class. He just observed. And I go, oh, how cool? That is so James Dean and cool. So I would go to his class. I'd pay money, which I didn't have. But I'd pay money for this class. And I would say no, I just want to observe. And I would sit in the back of the class and just watch the acting class. And he was like, Jimmy, are you sure? I mean, you should just get down here and, like, try. And I go, no, I'm good, I'm good. I'm just going to - just going to observe. And he's like, I got to be honest, I really think you're wasting your time, but OK. If you want to just sit back and - and so I kind of just did that. I didn't really act in the acting classes. And it really paid off...
FALLON: ...As you could see in my movie roles. I should've worked.
GROSS: It's so funny that you wanted to be James Dean because you're so different from James Dean. I mean...
GROSS: Like, no, seriously. Like, in his roles and he's always like holding so much in. And he's this, like, you know, like, romantic figure who's holding all this in until it just like explodes out of him. And he has this kind of, like, reserve and inner cool. And you're so seemingly, like, extroverted.
FALLON: I loved him. I loved River Phoenix. I loved Leonardo DiCaprio. They were like my favorite - they were my favorite actors. And I think it was just because they just looked so cool, you know. And they just were so cool in every scene. I go, I'd love to be able to do that. Of course, people want to do what they're not good at. I think this is just a thing that happens with actors or comedians or whoever. It's like - I remember after I got "Saturday Night Live" for a little while, I told my agents - I go, I don't want to do any movies unless it's a Western.
FALLON: And they were like, you realize they don't make Westerns. Like (laughter) what are you talking about? I go, I want to be like shot off a horse or something. I just want to be a cowboy. I don't want to do any movies unless it's a Western. And they were like, this guy's, like, difficult, man. It was like, but why would I not want to do a comedy? Because that's clearly what I'm - what I'm best at. But, you know, it's just those phases you have to go through. I mean...
GROSS: Wait, wait, wait. So what role did you see - were you the sheriff? Were you the guy who's given up guns because - like Sterling Hayden in "Johnny Guitar" and you're riding into town. Like, you don't have a gun, but, like, you're so tough and you're so cool, you're going to win no matter what anyways.
FALLON: Yeah. I probably was the sidekick to the cool guy where I still was kind of cool. But in my head, I saw myself getting shot off a horse, which again, when I go to therapy, something's going to come from that.
FALLON: But I don't know why, but I saw myself with a good fall. I love falling. I mean, I used to love Chevy Chase when I was growing up. And I used to practice falling. I would fall down the stairs. I would trip and knock things over on purpose. You know, I'm real - I'm still very good at tripping and falling. I would do Jerry Lewis and Chevy Chase moves all the time. I mean, I've heard great Chevy Chase stories Lorne has told me. They'd say he was like - Chevy is so funny. They would go to a restaurant. So it would be Lorne, Belushi, you know, Laraine Newman, Gilda. They'd be out to dinner. And Chevy would go, OK, I'm going to get up, and I'm going to trip and fall into that waiter with all the water glasses.
FALLON: And they'd go, Chevy, please don't do this. Please don't do - he goes, no, I got to do it. And they go, please don't - because they don't want to laugh, and they don't want to get busted. Like, they knew that he was going to do it. And he would spend all this time walking all the way around the restaurant and then come from a different angle and then trip and then knock into a waiter, knock water glasses everywhere. And they would try to sit there and try to not laugh like they didn't know what was happening. But Lorne said it was the funniest thing ever. And he would do it all the time.
GROSS: OK. We have to take a short break here. When we come back, we'll talk about "The Tonight Show." If you're just joining us, my guest is Jimmy Fallon, the host of "The Tonight Show." He has a new children's book. It's his second one, and it's called "Everything Is Mama." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR. This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Jimmy Fallon, the host of...
FALLON: This is FRESH AIR. This is it with Terry Gross. This is the coolest thing. I love your show so much. And I listen to you whenever I get a chance, either on, you know...
GROSS: How could you possibly get a chance? I don't even understand how that's conceivable, but...
FALLON: I'm walking to work now, which I usually...
GROSS: You're walking to work?
FALLON: Usually I - yeah.
GROSS: How do you get to work without people stopping you every step of the way?
FALLON: I know. It's interesting. You know, I don't wear a disguise or anything. I think that's exactly the - I think that's the secret. If celebrities wear a hat and sunglasses, people will look at them. And they go, who's that weird guy with the hat and sunglasses trying to hide? If I just am me walking down the street with headphones - don't care really. They just go, hey. Now, I'll get a, hey, every now and then.
GROSS: Oh, the headphones a sign like, oh, he's listening to something. I'd better not disturb him.
FALLON: Exactly. I think that's the thing. And I got the new...
GROSS: Do you ever wear headphones and not even be listening to anything?
FALLON: I have done that on airplanes, I got to be honest. I think people have done that to me on airplanes.
FALLON: I was on an airplane once with Mandy Patinkin. And he sat next to me. And he was wearing headphones. And I was like, oh, that's cool, Mandy Patinkin. And I go, that's cool. And I was having a few beers on the - this was, like, a flight from New York to LA. And I had nothing to do that night, just go back to the hotel and go to sleep. So I had a beer, and I'm hanging out. And so I go, hey, pleasure to meet you. And he goes - he took his headphones off. He was like, oh, yep, nice to meet you, cool. A big fan, you know, of "Princess Bride." He took his headphones off again. Oh, yeah, thank you. Then he put his headphones back on.
And he said something like, you do a great job on "Saturday Night Live." I go, did you ever host? And now he's, like, annoyed. And so he's, like, kind of taking his headphones and like no, well, I never host, but I used to hang out with those guys, you know, Belushi, back in the day. And he put his headphones on. And I go, wait, what? You hung out with Belushi? Like, tell me a story. I'd love to hear, like, a good Belushi story. He's like, no, I - so then he just seemed like he was annoyed (laughter). He just didn't want to talk to anyone. He just wanted to sit. And I totally ruined his flight from New York to LA. So, Mandy, if you're listening, I apologize. I haven't heard from him since, but I talked his ear off about "Saturday Night Live." And he told me Belushi was just crazy.
GROSS: Well, let's talk about "The Tonight Show." And I wanted to say here, like, thank you for having me on as a guest. It was such a great experience. I not only, like, enjoyed the experience of being on the show, I really enjoyed the experience of being backstage at the show and getting a glimpse of how the show operates. As a producer and host myself, I really love seeing how other shows operate, so that was kind of really thrilling.
FALLON: We - it's a lot of work that goes into, right?
GROSS: That's the thing. I don't know how - first of all, you have a great staff. Everybody was so super nice.
FALLON: Thank you.
GROSS: But I don't know how you do it. You know, I was on on a Thursday. So on your show, you sang a version of "Despacito." Then you did your opening monologue. Then there was the password game. Then you interviewed Anthony Anderson. Then you interviewed me. Then you did a Q&A with the audience while the band set up for Kesha's music performance.
FALLON: Oh, yeah.
GROSS: And then when all of that was over, you had to record Friday's show because you record Friday's show on Thursday in addition to Thursday's show. And I thought, like, this is insane.
FALLON: Oh, yeah. That was a - that was a good - (laughter) I put in the hours that day, yeah. It was fun, though. It's a long - it's rare that we do the double taping. But it must have been the summer, right?
GROSS: Yes. It was the summer.
FALLON: Yeah. First of all, thank you again for coming on 'cause people love hearing you. But they love seeing you. It must be so odd for you to, like, come talk and, like, be in public and have to talk because - I don't know. You're just so used to - and you're fantastic at your job. But, I mean, like it's a different beast.
GROSS: Yeah, I love the invisibility, yeah.
FALLON: It's a different beast, but you did a bit with us. We played Password, which is so fun.
GROSS: I totally flunked out of Password.
GROSS: Like, I'm flunking...
FALLON: But that's the best.
GROSS: I'm flunking out of "The Tonight Show." This is terrible. I totally blew it.
FALLON: No way. I - you know, we do games and bits on the show. And it's so funny because we'll play - like, Steve Harvey comes out, and we'll play "Family Feud." And you watch on TV. You watch "Jeopardy." And you go, oh, I could answer that. Oh, I know that. That's easy. Like, I can't believe these people aren't saying like name the number one item in your dresser drawer, you know? And then when you get asked and you're actually playing the game, you freak out.
FALLON: You actually - you don't know what's happening. You're like, uh, sandwich. They're like, a sandwich is in your dresser drawer? You're like, no. Why would that ever happen? You're like what a dumb answer. But it's just so fun. That's what it's all about. That's why the game is fun.
GROSS: It seems to me like your monologue has gotten more political from when you started on "The Tonight Show." You do Trump jokes in most of your opening monologues. Have you changed the balance? Do you think - I mean, I think you've changed the balance of (laughter) political humor in the monologue.
FALLON: A little bit. I mean, we've always told jokes about the president or anyone we can make fun of in the White House or Congress or, you know, we - you know, any politician's always good for a laugh, you know? I feel like we'd like to mix it up. Usually, we would do like 40 percent political jokes and then 60 percent just jokes about anything - you know, whatever pop culture thing - because that's what I'm actually more interested in than politics. I'm not that interested in politics.
But these days, with our president and everything that he's - I mean, every day, there's five new scandals or things. And you go, oh, it's just - these are top stories. And you have to see if you can find a joke, which is kind of hard sometimes. But if you can, you have to just tackle it so that at least you - I don't know - kind of got that joke. You kind of put that joke away. You go, OK, good, now that's that. And you made a joke about that bit. You made a joke about this bit. But every day, there's like five bits. I mean, you know, we come in, our writers are like, I don't know where else we can go. But now he just started another fight with somebody else and so - or something is else going on. It's just getting - it's just crazy. So I think now we're more 60 political and 40 fun poppy jokes.
GROSS: You know, the thing is, even if you're not political, President Trump has been involving himself - inserting himself in, like, every aspect of popular culture - football, his reviews of "Saturday Night Live" when he doesn't like an impression of him. I mean, he's just - he just is appearing in everything. There's like no getting away from...
FALLON: From anything. Yeah, he wants to - yeah, he's - it's getting into a lot of stuff, and it's crazy.
GROSS: So I'll just mention, you know, there was that time during the campaign when you had on candidate Donald Trump. And your thing was asking him if you can mess his hair because so many people thought he actually was wearing a toupee. And he said, yes, you can. And you messed his hair. And you got a lot of criticism for that - for kind of bringing him in on the joke and being nice to him as opposed to asking him tough questions or doing like, you know, cutting satire. And I'm wondering if that led to doing more political humor, too?
FALLON: No. I mean, even when he was a candidate, I made fun of his hair, you know, to his face. I actually wore his wig. And we pretended - we did a sketch where we were in the mirror talking to each other.
GROSS: No, no. I know. I guess I was wondering if, like, the criticisms led to doing more political humor?
FALLON: No, I don't care what anyone says. I think everyone's - I think they're - no. If I needed people to write for my show, I would have them write for my show. I'm not going to change who I am because of them. It's just the world's changing. I've had eight years of Obama. So I never had this world yet. So this is all learning for me. I don't really know how to deal with this presidency. So I'm kind of learning as I'm going.
I mean, the hair-mess thing, you know, I asked him as, you know, questions - as many questions as, you know, as hard-hitting questions as I'm going to ask. I asked him if he knew Vladimir Putin. I asked him, you know, did he have any contact with him? Was he friends with him? I mean, I asked him those questions. It doesn't get brought up because everyone just saw the hair thing. They go, oh, I can't believe he messed his hair up and showed how cool he was. And I'm like, I don't know if that's a cool thing. If I went up to you and messed your hair up, is that cool? I don't know. I thought it was more of like a - I messed - I touched the guy's hair that everyone wanted to touch.
They're like - everyone's like, is it real? Is it a toupee? We've always - I've asked him to do it for years. And he's - he went on all the other shows. I mean, he's been on every show. But I just figured I'd ask. I was like, hey, can I mess it up? And he's like, yeah. He's goes, just don't mess it up too much because I have some speech I'm giving. And I go, OK. But I'm like, I might as well do it if I'm going to go for it. So I just messed his hair up.
GROSS: You've had to deal with a lot of tragedies and surprising events on "The Tonight Show." I mean, you mentioned the shooting, the massacre in Las Vegas. And your approach to handling that was to say that it was a tragedy and that you're here to entertain and that you will. And then you brought out Miley Cyrus to do this song. And was it Adam Sandler singing with her?
FALLON: Yeah. Adam Sandler, of all people, came and played great guitar and sang beautiful harmony with her.
GROSS: That was a choice that you made that you weren't going to talk about what happened. You were going to just offer some beautiful music.
FALLON: Yeah. Well, I mean, we really are here to entertain. We're on every single night. And I feel like there's a lot of problems happening with the world and a lot of stress when you watch the news. We follow the news on most channels. So you watch your local news to see what's going on in the world. And then it's our job to make fun of whatever we can make fun of and just make you kind of laugh so as you doze off because I know people fall asleep after the monologue. But just as you doze off, you're in a good mood. And you go, it's going to be all right, you know, and I'm going to be happy. I'm going to have sweet dreams. And that's kind of my goal.
Just so - my goal is that you have sweet dreams. And you go, let Jimmy worry about this stuff. He'll have a joke on every single topic. And then we'll go to sleep. And we'll wake up tomorrow. And we'll deal with the day. And at the end of a long day, again, he'll be there and entertain us and get my head in the right space.
GROSS: So I've been noticing, like, your finger recently had been in a bandage. Now it's in a kind of flesh-colored Band-Aid that you can - or something like that - that you can hardly see. But you could see it if you look. So you had a really horrible injury. Would you describe what happened to you?
FALLON: So it's called ring avulsion. And I wouldn't Google it if I were you. It's pretty gross. But what happened was I tripped and fell in my kitchen just running around. And I put my hand down on the countertop to catch my fall, and my wedding ring got caught on the sharp edge of my countertop. And I fell down, but my ring stayed up and tore - the ring didn't move at all. I mean, it was a really strong ring. Rings in general, I think, are too strong. It just ripped the whole end of my finger off, tendons and everything. And I didn't know what had happened. And I just saw blood coming out and I go, uh-oh (ph).
So I just jumped in - I wrapped a dish towel around my hand, ran in a cab and went to the emergency room. And I think I said, oh, I think I broke my finger. And they go, no, you didn't break it. It's ring avulsion. We had to get like a special doctor in. So I ended up - I want to thank all the doctors and nurses at Bellevue. I was in Bellevue for - ICU for 10 days. Dr. Chiu - Dr. David Chiu is the micro surgeon, plastic surgeon that saved my finger. They were going to cut it off.
FALLON: But it's crazy. So right now, this was the second surgery. This is my last one. But they put a tendon in there from my wrist. And they put membrane from my rib cage. And they injected fat in the side of the finger so it looks straighter, which they took from the bottom of my hand, which I was like, hey, if you're going to take fat out, you might as well go for my belt.
FALLON: I mean, I'm not going to complain if I wake up and I got six-pack abs, you know? I go - but whatever, they took it out of my hand and said - but so now I'm in the rehab phase. I'm kind of like - which is everyone tells you is - that is the ultimate - that's what you have to do when you get any surgery. It's all about the rehab, so really do that. And so as we're talking right now I'm kind of just pressing on it just to try to make it bend again.
GROSS: Wow. So a lot of people probably would have fainted when they saw their finger after what happened when your finger was kind of hanging on.
GROSS: But you just - see, if it was me, I'd like - I'd think like, the dish towel's probably dirty, so if I wrap it around my hand, maybe I'll get an infection. Maybe I shouldn't do that. And I'd be standing there paralyzed, you know, like...
FALLON: Well, I also - I'm pretty good with like any disasters. I just kind of roll with the punches. I mean, the same finger I cut the tip off maybe a year before 'cause I was making salsa. I don't even know why I was making salsa. I don't know how to - I'm not a gourmet salsa maker. I don't even care that much. I love salsa, but I don't need to make it myself. And I cut the tip off with that really sharp knife. Also, it made me mad because salsa's the one thing that you can buy basically anywhere. I almost beg you to find the place that doesn't sell salsa. It's like at your gas station, you can get that. But so anyway, I'm just so mad at myself for doing that. But I cut the tip of that same finger off. And I had to go to the hospital and have it reattached and had bandages on it two years before.
Oh, it's a nightmare. I mean, I went through like a phase where I was cutting my hands for like - I went to the Harvard Lampoon. I was getting an - I was getting an honorary Lampoon. I was an honorary member of the Lampoon, which means a lot to me. I love the Harvard Lampoon. And I respect so many great comedians and writers that came from there. And I went out. It was probably around 8 o'clock at night. And the sun was starting to set. And I just had this injury happen with the ring avulsion, so I had a bandage on my left hand.
So the Harvard band - marching band came out and surprised me and played a song for me. So my buddy goes, hey, you know, you should really thank those kids because they didn't get paid for this. They just did this. Like, they got the uniforms together. It was a really cool thing they did that. And I go, absolutely. And so I was outside there. And I go, hey, you know what? Maybe give me a bottle of Jagermeister, and I'll present that to the band like, hey, this is a gift from me to you to thank you guys - if you have a bottle inside. I just thought it'd be a silly fun kind of, you know, thing to give them.
And so somebody gets me a bottle of Jagermeister. And it's dark, and there's fireworks going - about to go off. And I go to give it to the band. I turn around. And in the meantime, some girl had gotten on her knee to either propose to me or give me a flower. And I turn around, and she's there, and I trip over her. Now, again, my left hand is completely bandaged from the ring avulsion. My right hand is holding a giant glass bottle of booze.
GROSS: Oh, no.
FALLON: And I'm like, don't hit this girl in the head with a bottle of - it's glass. So I jump over her and throw out the bottle and land on broken glass. My right hand is now completely cut. I had to go to the emergency room. This is like - Terry, this is a true story. And I'm going, you got to be kidding me. This is crazy. But it was the oddest month of my life.
GROSS: When was this?
FALLON: That was right - it was around July, August. It was right around when I just had the surgery for my other finger. Yeah. I was - honestly, it was - I'm so happy that phase is over in my life. But I had like two really bad falls in like two weeks. And everyone was like, oh, no.
GROSS: But the interesting thing is one of your things is pratfall. Like, you were saying you love falling down the stairs and doing all these falls...
FALLON: I'm fantastic at it, but I've never fell with...
GROSS: Yeah. Now you're falling for real, yeah.
FALLON: (Laughter) I know. But I'm like, if I had my left hand, I could of - I know. I don't know. I just - maybe I was just - my brain was just thinking about too many things, something like that. But I - usually, I'm a much better faller than that, much more graceful. So that all happened at like once. And so now, hopefully, this finger's getting as good as it can get. I'm actually starting to take piano lessons just to see if I can - it's good for your fingers, you know. So I'm going to see if I can kind of learn piano and see if I can get my finger back to working order.
GROSS: Oh, I like the idea that something really good might come out of it like learning to play piano. So you were in the ICU for 10 days. Is that to make sure that your fingers took...
FALLON: Stayed alive.
GROSS: ...That it stayed alive? Yeah.
FALLON: Yeah. Like, I would get like - yeah, they would come and check on it every hour. And I would have to keep it elevated and under like this heat balloon almost that was like a plastic heated bag that would go over my hand and just keep the blood moving and flowing. They had like an ultrasound with like - it almost looked like a pen that was an ultrasound pen. And they would put it on the tip of my finger. And if you heard the (imitating heart beats) that was a good sign. That meant blood was flowing through. So I was like - oh, it was just really an insane time, a lot of alone time.
GROSS: Yeah. So 10 days in the ICU - what did you do to - did you watch TV? Did you listen to music? What was your appetite for either being entertained or just absorbed in something other than yourself?
FALLON: I read a lot of - I read a lot of books. I didn't watch that much TV because daytime TV, for me, was pretty depressing. I did not enjoy it. It was like a lot of people - a lot of judge shows where people are suing each other and fighting. It's like, I was not in the mood for that. I was like, this is terrible. I want late night to come on. I don't care if I watch, you know, I'll watch Colbert, Kimmel. I don't care who it is. I need a laugh. I need to watch something funny right now and fresh. But I remember reading "Man's Search For Meaning" by Arthur Frankl (ph). And man, oh, man, that was one of the best books I've ever read. And it just - if you think your life's tough, check out that book. And you go, wow, that's a lot of struggle there.
GROSS: One last, short question. Since you've been in the hospital, even though you weren't able to watch "Late Night" in the hospital - I guess no Wi-Fi either - but anyways (laughter)...
FALLON: Yeah, exactly.
GROSS: I - yeah, so when you're doing your show now, do you ever think about people who're in the hospital or who are home recovering or who have some kind of, like, chronic illness...
GROSS: ...And that you want to be there for them?
FALLON: All the time. I absolutely think about it all the time. And that is the best thing about my show - is that I know that there's people out there who're going through a tough time, and they're hurting. And I get notes from them. And I get social media from them. And I know there's people in the ICU and there's people in the hospital that can't even send notes.
But I - trust me, I'm sending them the best vibes. And I want them to just laugh and get through whatever they're going through and get out of there. Go home. Get out of that hospital. Get well. If you're sick, get well. I mean, I really - I'm meant to make people happy. That's my job. That's what I'm supposed to do, I think, on this earth. And that's - I'm going to do whatever I can to make people happy.
GROSS: Jimmy Fallon, thank you so much for coming back to FRESH AIR. It's just been great to talk with you.
FALLON: I love it. I love hearing your voice. I can't wait to come back. And I want you to come back to "The Tonight Show." Please, please, please.
GROSS: Anytime (laughter), OK.
FALLON: Thank you, buddy.
GROSS: Jimmy Fallon is the host of "The Tonight Show." His new children's book is called "Everything Is Mama." After we take a short break, Justin Chang will review the new film "Darkest Hour" starring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in the early days of World War II. This is FRESH AIR.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Film critic Justin Chang has a review of "Darkest Hour," starring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill. The film is set during the early days of World War II. Hitler's forces are rampaging across Western Europe when Churchill is appointed prime minister of England in 1940.
JUSTIN CHANG, BYLINE: Winston Churchill is having something of a renaissance moment in popular entertainment. In the recent film "Churchill," Brian Cox played the prime minister as he confronted the looming specter of D-Day. John Lithgow won an Emmy for his turn as an aging postwar Churchill in the hit Netflix series "The Crown." Now comes "Darkest Hour," a ham-fisted prestige entertainment but a grand showpiece for Gary Oldman, who gives us perhaps the biggest, brashest and certainly most prosthetic-heavy screen version of Churchill yet.
Directed by Joe Wright from a hypereloquent script by Anthony McCarten, "Darkest Hour" unfolds over several tense weeks in May 1940. Western Europe is crumbling under Hitler's onslaught. Neville Chamberlain, having gotten nowhere with his disastrous appeasement policy, has resigned as prime minister, leaving Churchill the unlikely beneficiary. Although widely distrusted by the political establishment for his irascible, unpredictable streak, Churchill is rightly seen as the only one strong enough to unite all parties and lead Britain to victory.
Even with the apocalypse looming, there's a bit of official pomp and tradition to get through. Churchill has a private audience with King George VI, who, as played by a terrifically restrained Ben Mendelsohn, is very good at hiding his reservations about the appointment. Kristin Scott Thomas puts a commanding spin on Winston's faithful, fiercely intelligent wife Clementine, who turns up every so often to remind him why he's the right man for the job. He'd better be anyway, with Britain's armed forces about to be wiped out by the Germans on the northern coast of France.
If you've seen Christopher Nolan's harrowing epic "Dunkirk," which focused on the logistics of that famous evacuation, "Darkest Hour" provides an undeniably fascinating look behind the scenes. Much of the movie takes place not at 10 Downing Street but in the cabinet war rooms, an underground bunker where Churchill pours over military maps, spars with his cabinet and consults his young typist Elizabeth, an audience stand-in nicely played by Lily James. Among Churchill's rivals turned advisers is Viscount Halifax, a Chamberlain ally played by Stephen Dillane who's bent on negotiating a peaceful surrender with Germany. But the prime minister, determined to seek victory at all costs, isn't having any of it.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DARKEST HOUR")
STEPHEN DILLANE: (As Viscount Halifax) There's nothing heroic in going down fighting if it can be avoided. Nothing even remotely patriotic in death or glory, if the odds are firmly on the former. Nothing inglorious in trying to shorten a war that we are clearly losing.
GARY OLDMAN: (As Winston Churchill) Losing. Europe is still...
DILLANE: (As Viscount Halifax) Europe has lost. And before our forces are wiped out completely, now is the time to negotiate in order to obtain the best conditions possible. Hitler will not insist on outrageous terms. He will know his own weaknesses. He will be reasoned with.
OLDMAN: (As Winston Churchill) When will the lesson be learned? When will the lesson be learned? How many more dictators must be wooed, appeased - good God, given immense privileges - before we learn? You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.
CHANG: As he demonstrated in films like "Pride And Prejudice," "Atonement" and "Anna Karenina," director Joe Wright likes to infuse toney literary material with a daring element of the theatrical. In "Darkest Hour," that sense of showmanship plays out a visually arresting but sometimes garishly over-the-top effect. The cinematographer, Bruno Delbonnel, emphasizes the doomsday mood by giving nearly every actor a ghostly pallor.
Wright sends the camera soaring around and around the crowded House of Commons, cranking up the spectacle a hundred fold. When Churchill rides a lift down into the bunker, the film boxes him in on all sides by impenetrable walls of blackness, literalizing the title and making clear, as if we needed reminding, just how isolated this man is. But if Churchill is an island, he is also a rousing populist hero, as demonstrated by an entirely fabricated sequence that gives the movie its schmaltziest moments.
The prime minister, on his way to deliver a speech before Parliament, ends up riding the underground and listening to what his people have to say. Presumably, this scene, with its cute child reaction shots and impromptu poetry recitations, is meant to bring a tear to your eye. But mine were too busy rolling to get that far. Oldman can be an actor of enormous subtlety, a quality that he has decidedly not brought to bear on his work here. This is a fist-pounding, jowl-twitching tour de force of acting.
If Oldman's skinny frame seems an odd one on which to hang Churchill's larger-than-life proportions, spiritually, his performance is of a piece with his madly energetic, live-wire turns in movies like "Sid And Nancy" and "True Romance." And why not? When you're staring down history's greatest monster, and an Oscar hangs in the balance, it's no time to play it safe.
GROSS: Justin Chang is a film critic for the Los Angeles Times. If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed, like our interview with journalist Luke Harding, author of the new book "Collusion," about the connections between Russia and Donald Trump and his campaign, or our interview with Nashville singer-songwriter Margo Price, who played some of her songs, check out our podcast. You'll find lots of interviews to choose from. FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie, Thea Chaloner and Seth Kelley. I'm Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF MARIA SCHNEIDER'S "WALKING BY FLASHLIGHT")
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.