Jimmy Fallon will take over for Conan O’Brien as the host of NBC’s Late Night on Monday, but his office looks like he’s had the job for years, filled with family photos, wedding pictures of his wife, Nancy Juvonen, three flat-screen TVs, and a giant stained-glass portrait of Buddy Holly. Fallon excitedly pointed out the many city sights below 30 Rock: “I can even see the hot dog vendor down there now that I’ve had Lasik surgery,” he said.
On a tour of Studio 6A, Fallon pointed out the stage where The Roots, his house band, will play. There is also a mosh-pit area for “the kids,” who will be allowed to come down onto the set from the audience when a musical guest or band is playing. “It will be more like American Bandstand or something than a talk show at that point,” Fallon said. “It’ll be cool and add a whole other energy to the show. It’s time to see what kids look like again.”
“I was so embarrassed. Musical theatre is not for me. I sounded like Harvey Fierstein at a Clay Aiken pool party.”
He seemed most proud of the faded red velvet house seats. “These are from the original orchestra section of Radio City Music Hall,” he bragged, hitting the backs of a few of the seats and giving the dust an exaggerated whiff. “Smell that history—it’s the aroma all the different asses that have sat on these.”
After showing off his videogame skills, he settled in for a chat about bringing on DeNiro as his first guest, why Kanye is overexposed, and whether Will Ferrell flashes a photo of his package on Broadway.
Are you practicing videogames for kids in your life, now that you’ve got a regular paycheck?
No. Just my inner kid. Though I do want to have children. Nancy and I have been married now for a year and one month. She’s awesome.
Well, I hope you love her and it wasn’t a career move—she does run Drew Barrymore’s production company.
It wasn’t anything like that. I lucked out. She’s had a really good few weeks— He’s Just Not That Into You is her movie.
Has she been supportive of your crazy schedule? It’s just going to get crazier.
She came to the first two test shows and gave me good notes. Then I got home and she had dinner waiting for me. I was like, “All right, we’re going to do it this way, too?” It was amazing.
She probably read some how-to-be-a-good-wife book from the 1950s and was pulling a joke on you.
Yeah, yeah, yeah—probably found it on the Internet. She’d never done that before. But it was kind of sweet. I appreciated it—especially with her being so busy and working on a reality show for VH1. It’s good that she’s in the business because we understand what the other is going through—that’s half the battle.
Why do you have this shrine to Buddy Holly in your office? It’s kind of spooky. He won’t take his eyes off us behind those glasses. It’s kind of like Dr. T.J. Eckleburg on that road sign in The Great Gatsby. Is it Holly’s music you respond to or the tragedy of his story?
The music. My parents are from Brooklyn and my dad used to sing doo-wop on the corners. He was in a gang. Then he went off to Vietnam and sang doo-wop on his Navy ship. I grew up in upstate New York, and my dad would run wire all through the house just so he could pick up WCBS-FM and Cousin Brucie. I thought all '60s music was doo-wop. When I see movies about Vietnam or that period and they’re playing rock, I’m going, “Where’s the Duprees and Dion & the Belmonts?”
What is going to be your template for your show? Have you gone back and looked at kinescopes of Steve Allen on those original late-night shows?
Steve Allen was amazing. All Letterman’s stuff when he first came out was based on Steve Allen.
Allen was a renaissance man with an absurdist mind.
He was just wacky and fun. Fun is the key. If I don’t have fun at this job, then there’s no sense in doing it. You can’t stress too much. We went through all this process of hiring all these great writers, but what it came down to with me was who has a positive attitude and would be great to have around the office because I know it’s going to be a grind. You just have to be strong enough to know that there’s another show tomorrow. And tomorrow. And tomorrow. All the way to Friday. Then Saturday you can be depressed. Get over it by Sunday. Come into work on Monday. That’s it—my job is to ruin everyone’s Saturdays. I have a realistic attitude about all this. People are going to see me who are awake at 12:30. College kids and prison guards.
You say college kids. But your first guests on your first show are Robert De Niro and Van Morrison. That’s a rather old demographic. Is AARP sponsoring you?
The age of my guests doesn’t translate to the age of my audience. If I have Chace Crawford as a guest, it doesn’t mean I’ll have a younger audience. Kids are into Van Morrison. They have him on their iPods. The iPod generation doesn’t look at music as, well, generational. They’ve got 1,000 songs on their iPods and it’s impossible for them to be the same genre. They can download anything. Kids love a party. Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks is a classic, classic album. You should own it. My 12:30 audience should be interested in interesting people. That’s what I’m into.
And it’s time to see some new musical artists. You see Kanye on The Tonight Show. You see him on Saturday Night Live. How many times can you see Kanye? I don’t just want indie bands either. I want country-and-western. I want classical. As long as they’re interesting.
It’s brave of you having De Niro as a first guest. Brave or nuts.
Yeah, I’ll probably say something about his not doing many talk shows before he comes out and thank him for doing mine. He doesn’t have anything to promote either.
Well, he must be a fan of yours to say yes to being your first guest.
We did do a bit on Saturday Night Live a while back. And I appeared at his Tribeca Film Festival. He loves comedy and he loves to laugh. He also knows I’d never try to screw him over—because there’s no reason to ever screw anybody over.
What’s so interesting about De Niro is that his background doesn’t jibe with his street-tough image. His father was an artist who was friends with Anais Nin and Henry Miller and Tennessee Williams, and lived his life at times as an openly gay man. Do you have the balls to ask him about that—if you cleared it with him first maybe?
Absolutely. If he wanted to talk about his dad, of course. I don’t want to come off as threatening to my guests or have anyone afraid of me. But I’m not afraid to talk about that kind of stuff. I’ve got the balls. I didn’t want to just have a roster of guests that were all my friends to come and pat me on the back. I just didn’t want to go, “And here’s Tina Fey,” and she’ll come out as my old SNL Weekend Update partner and do a bit and it’ll be great, but it would also be too easy. She is going be a guest though, because she’s now the most-famous person in the country. She said right off the bat to me, anything you need I’ll be there. So I went, “Second night?” And she said sure.
Speaking of friends and balls, are you going to ask your buddy Billy Crudup about his blue balls in Watchmen when he comes on the show the first week? His blue-skinned character Dr. Manhattan is naked throughout the movie. I think it’s a special effect.
I bet you that is Crudup’s penis. He’s a real-deal Method guy. I’ve seen him in almost every possible wardrobe except… ah… all the way down. Speaking of penises, have you seen Will Ferrell’s Broadway show about George Bush in which he puts up a huge picture of a penis? That’s Will’s.
Well I guess you’d recognize it.
I’ve never seen Will naked, but that’s my guess. And since we’re on the subject—of Broadway, not penises anymore—I auditioned once for Young Frankenstein and it was the worst audition of my life. It was for the doctor’s role. I went to someone’s apartment to meet Susan Stroman, the director. There was a guy there to play the piano. I could have done “Puttin’ on the Ritz” but, of course, the guy plays something else. For an hour this guy on the piano kept trying to teach me this new song. Finally Susan comes in and I start singing, “You will walk, you will talk, everybody will gawk ...” I went, “Can we stop? Can we do it again?” I was sounding really gay, so I really lowered my voice the next time and it sounded even more gay. Flop sweat was coming down. I was so embarrassed. Steam was coming off me. Musical theatre is not for me. I sounded like Harvey Fierstein at a Clay Aiken pool party.
Which might be the only thing gayer than this interview is becoming right now. Do you have any other interests that you’ll bring onto the culture of the Late Show?
I’d like to have the Diggnation guys on—Kevin and Alex. I like any tech guys who could come on and show us what the new phone is going to be and maybe explain why phones don’t work in New York City.
Will you have a web presence?
We want to be interactive. We’ve hired three full-time bloggers and we’re going to launch a site that’s going to be synonymous with our show so that there will be different ways to enjoy Late Night. During the day you can go on our site and watch funny clips from Hulu or YouTube or College Humor or whatever. We’ll be tweeting and Facebooking our fans and maybe interviewing kids from their dorm rooms on Skype.
The stuff you’ve posted so far on the web on the runup to your show is not really ironic or edgy or glib. The word I would use to describe it is earnest.
What I’ve been trying to do with those webisodes is to let people know what I’ve been going through to put together a late-night talk show. If you want funnier and edgier videos right now there is so much good stuff out there—Funny or Die and Crackle. We’re going to save that for the show. But these first webisodes were all about re-acquainting our audience with me.
Will you be taking the show to LA?
I really want to make it New York-centric. We might do a special show or week from London—I’m a complete Anglophile. I love the regalness of it. Pimm’s cup, Wimbledon. And there’s some great comedy over there, too. Check out The Mighty Boosh. There’s also this guy over there named Chris Morris who did this thing that was so ahead of its time called The Day Today, which made me want to do Weekend Update.Then he did this show called Nathan Barley, which was a hit with the hipsters. It was so phenomenal that even England didn’t get it.
Do you like mean comedy?
I’m not into surprising people in a mean way. Sometimes you think that nothing is shocking anymore in this world and then you see something that Sacha Baron Cohen does, and it shocks you. I would completely love for him to come on as Bruno when his next movie comes out.
Would you do a character as well? Would you have Justin Timberlake co-host a show with you and you guys could do the show as Barry and Robin Gibb like you did on SNL?
I’m not ruling out anything. But I’m going to hold off on the impersonations at first.
Are you worried about being censored? Going back to Steve Allen, he really pushed the envelope at times. He was a champion of Lenny Bruce, for example, and would tell people to go ahead and write their letters even before Bruce appeared.
I don’t think people write letters anymore, or complain.
I’m just going to use common sense. Lorne Michaels is watching over everything to make sure that the flag doesn’t touch the ground. But I’m going to treat this like I’m the host. I think those who fail at this forget that. It’s not the JIMMY JIMMY JIMMY show. I’m here to make my guests look great. It was Jack Benny who said, “I'm not funny. Rochester is funny. But he's funny and the next day the people go to the water cooler and go, 'Did you see The Jack Benny Show last night? He was hilarious.'” That’s the way I’m going into this. If I can help make De Niro score, all the better.
How long is your contract?
I don’t know for a fact. I guess I should find that out. I know NBC could fire me if they want to. They’d find a way out of it. So I can’t be worried about that. I’m not doing this for the money or anything like that. It’s a dream job to get out there every night and help put America to bed so that they don’t think about all their bills and how much life might suck.
Are you aware of the competition with Craig Ferguson over on CBS during your same time slot? He’s just now hitting his stride it seems.
The same thing happened to Jimmy Kimmel once Sarah Silverman fucked Matt Damon.
Maybe you can top Jimmy Kimmel and really fuck Ben Affleck.
Don’t worry. I’m already on to Casey Affleck. Whatever I have to do for the ratings, I’m down for it. But in all seriousness, my one real goal in all of this is to give you one last laugh before you fall asleep. That’s it.
Kevin Sessums is the author of the New York Times bestseller Mississippi Sissy, a memoir of his childhood. He was executive editor of Andy Warhol's Interview magazine and a contributing editor of Vanity Fair and Allure. He is a contributing editor of Parade. His new memoir, I Left It on Mountain, will be published by St. Martin's Press next year.