Fallon talks about filling the big shoes (and hair) of ‘Late Night’
February 24, 2009
For six years, Jimmy Fallon kept the laughs coming on “SNL.” We loved him for his stoner Jarret, his radio DJ Joey Mack and his eternal bedhead on “Weekend Update.” Then, he left the show to pursue a career in the movies. Now, he’s making his epic return to TV as a late-night talk show host, replacing Conan O’Brien on NBC’s “Late Night.”
Fallon hopes to change things up with his show, and has already booked Robert De Niro for his first show, and hired hip-hop group The Roots as his house band. We talked to Fallon about his guests, his nerves and how in the world he got Van Morrison to appear on his show.
You have some pretty big hair to fill. How do you feel about that?
You know, I got my own hair issues so I’m sure I’ll figure it out. My nerves have kind of gone now, to be honest. I’m more just anxious and excited. I’m not taking Conan away. He’s not leaving. So I think if you love your Conan, I’m not hurting you at all. It’s going to be a good show. I’m just looking forward to it. I’m anxious and I’m ready to go.
Do you still get nervous when you’re on the stage in the spotlight?
Yes, I definitely still get nervous. I’m doing stand-up these days and that first 30 seconds when I come on stage, I’m nervous. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Because you can do the same jokes, the same delivery, different audience, you get different response. And that’s what makes it kind of fun.
How do you think your late night show will be different?
I think ours will be different in the fact that we’re younger. We’ll treat a video game premiere like a movie premiere. And we’re not going to hide the fact that people are on the Internet all day. I’m currently on Twitter and Facebook and Flickr and Digg.
Tell us about your first guest—the one, the only Robert De Niro.
De Niro is my first choice. I think he’s quintessential New York. He’s a legendary actor. I love him. I worked with him once at “Saturday Night Live” and like a couple things here and there. I think he represents New York more than anyone. He’s the king and I was honored that he said yes.
He’s rumored to be a tough interview.
I thought that it’d be kind of good to have my first guy be probably one of the toughest people you can interview. It could be kind of fun to see if we can get anything out of it. I don’t know, and it might be terrible. It might be awful. But I’m excited.
And what about Van Morrison?
I just lucked out because he’s in the city. He’s performing the full album of Astral Weeks. And if you love any music you know that that’s a phenomenal record. He’s one of my favorites of all times. So the fact that he was in town is just pure luck.
Has Van Morrison actually seen your impersonation of him?
I can almost guarantee you he has no idea who I am. I don’t even know if I’m going to show it to him. I don’t know that guy at all. I was psyched just to book him. I don’t know if I want to piss him off before he comes on the show. I respect him, I love him and I could sing any song backup if he needs me.
Is there anyone that you’re really hoping to interview?
I’d love to talk to the Queen of England if you have any way to get in touch with her. I’d love to just pick her brain and just tell her how much I love her. I think she’s super cool. Also, I’d love to go into space with Richard Branson and David Bowie. I know Branson’s got that space machine he’s working on. And I could be the first talk show host in space so I would love to make that happen. That’d be my dream probably.
A lot of people forget that being an interviewer is a very tough skill. What are you doing to prepare to be a good interviewer?
Every morning I sit my wife to the right of me and I ask her what she’s going to do that day. We run a clip and then we go to commercial.
How did you decide to have The Roots as your house band? You seem to be making history by having a rap band as a late night house band.
I don’t know who to compare them to because they can play with Tony Bennett and they could play with Jay-Z and it sounds great. They’re so diverse. I don’t know who else could do that. Plus on top of that they’re funny as hell. And so they’re going to do sketches and it’s going to be good. I really, really, really struck gold and I’m so happy and honored that they would be my band.
For your sketches, are you going to be going outside the studio at all?
Completely. More than shows have in the past I hope. I think New York City is the greatest city in the world. You can do so much stuff here and it’s like a huge playground. So I think we’re going to be more New York-centric than the shows have been in the past.
What type of advice did Conan give you?
I think the thing he’s repeated is that you’ve just got to do it. Just do it, just keep doing it because then that’s how you learn how to do it. Just get up there and just start swinging.
How do you plan to keep people tuned in night after night?
I honestly don’t know. I just know that every night I’m going to go out and give the best I can. And try to make you forget about your life and the bills you have to pay and your job. Just give me 10 minutes at 12:30 a.m. and I’ll make you laugh and then you can go to sleep or stay awake.
If you could write a new tag line for your show, what would it be?
“Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”— coconutty, carmelly, little chug of chocolate on it.