Jimmy Fallon has been successful in TV and the movies but now he's taking on another form of entertainment altogether: late-night talk-show TV. Fallon will take over for Conan O'Brien when Late Night with Jimmy Fallon premieres on Monday, March 2 at 12:30 AM ET on NBC. Fallon held a conference call to talk about his new endeavor and here's what he had to say.
What made this right for you?
Jimmy Fallon: I guess I really want this. I'm trying to think what makes it right for me. I got my shot at the movies. I love doing standup live. I didn't know what I wanted to do. I wanted to try movies, so I gave it a shot. I had two shots and I didn't really do it. That wasn't really happening for me. On the second movie I got to meet the girl that would be my wife. So I got to hang out with her and get engaged, and get the whole wedding thing. It was really great. Then 2008 rolls around and (Loren) called me. He said, "Hey, remember that thing we were talking about five years ago?" When I left Saturday Night Live, he'd said, "We're going to have to replace Conan O'Brien eventually. Keep that in the back of your head." I was like, "All right, I guess." Tina was actually there. She thought it would be good for me. I thought, "No, I want to try movies." Then we jump to 2008. Six months before NBC made any sort of announcement. I was hearing rumors that I was the next host. I didn't know. No one from NBC had contacted me at that point. I talked to (Lorne) and I had a couple of conversations with (Rick Lovelin). I knew I was on the short list. But I didn't know who else they were going for. I know that (Lorne) was pretty positive he only wanted to do it with me.
How do you think your talk show will be different?
Jimmy Fallon: We're younger. We're into tech stuff, gadgets, phones, video games. We'll treat a video game premiere like a movie premiere. I'm just going to be honest with what I like and what I do. What I enjoy. We're not going to hide the fact that people are on the Internet all day. I think a lot of shows don't really mention that. They barely touch on it. Most kids come home from school. They don't go to their TVs first. They go to the Internet. They check their emails, or some blogs, or some sites. Then they go watch TV. Other people are at work all day 9-5 in front of a computer. They see certain clips. We're not going to hide the fact that people use the Internet. We're going to try to be as interactive as possible with our fans. I'm currently on Twitter and Facebook and Flicker and Dig. I'm on all that stuff. I want to be as interactive as possible. I know we tape at 5:30 pm. We air at 12:30 am. I think my fans are smart enough to realize that we do tape early. We'll figure out some way to keep it interactive either through Tweets or I can say on the show, between 5:30 pm and 6:30 pm Eastern Standard Time, to please send in stuff via the INternet. I still have to figure out how that's going to work. If it doesn't work, it's still fun to experiment and try stuff. It's 12:30 am at night. Honestly, I just want to keep people awake. Or at least give you one joke to go to bed with.
Can you talk about your first guests and how you lined up De Niro and Van Morrison?
Jimmy Fallon: Yeah. De Niro was my first choice. I think he's the quintessential New York guy. He's a legendary actor. I love him. I worked with him once at Saturday Night Live. We're not friends, per se. We like each other, but we're not buddies. I don't hang out at his house. He's never invited me over for coffee. He's just so cool. I always love working with him. He's a really nice guy to work with. He also comes off as 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. Jump into the fire as (Harry Nelson) put it. It's fun to see if we can get anything out of it. It might be terrible. It might be awful. But I'm excited. I think he represents New York more than anyone. He's the king. I was honored that he said yes. He's a great guy. I think it's just going to come off when we talk. Van Morrison? I just lucked out because he's in the city. He's performing the full album of Astral Weeks. If you're an audiophile, you know its a phenomenal record. I grew up an Irish kid. He comes on the iPod in your brain when you're born. He's just one of my favorites of all times. The fact that he was in town is just pure luck. I think Astral Weeks is a phenomenal record. So it's a double whammy on that one.
What about the other guests, like Tina Fey?
Jimmy Fallon: I figured I'd call in the favors early because I didn't want people wondering when I was going to have Tina Fey on. We can just get this over with. I love her. She's just the nicest person ever. She will be the first guest; she will be the last guest. She would do anything for me. She was the most famous person in the world at one point. That's just got to be awesome. So, we will talk about that. I mean, we sat next to each other at a desk for a long time. We connected. She's fun to work with. And we play well together.
With Jay coming on at 10 o'clock, there's going to be two acts before you that have a chance to riff on the day's news. How do you come in and make it fresh?
Jimmy Fallon: We tape earlier than all of those people. Because they're out in Los Angeles. We tape at 5:30 pm in New York. It's only 2:30 pm there. Honestly, I think it's not going to really affect my audience. Either you're awake at 12:30 am, or you're not. We had the first crack at the joke, but when you watch it, you'll be like, "Dude, I just saw Jay and Conan do that same bit!" So, instead, we're going to get a lot of our humor from Dubai and BBC World News. That's the only thing I can think of. We're going to try to be interactive with our show. We're launching a blog and our show on the same day. Late Night with Jimmy Fallon is going to be very different. We hired three full time bloggers. We're going to have clips on there, funny things from the Internet, celebrity news and a bunch of video posts that we're going to put up. I'll be in as much as I can. We'll give to our fans as many ways possible. There will be different ways to enjoy our show.
How did you get the Roots to be your house band?
Jimmy Fallon: I was talking to my friend (Neil Brennan) who worked on the Chappelle's Show He says, "You know who you should get to be your house band? You should get the Roots." I ask, "Do you think they would do it?" He goes, "Oh no, they wouldn't do it. But maybe they know someone who would steer you in the right direction." But I asked anyway. I just figured why not? All they can say is no. I called them up. I said, "Hey, I'd love to talk to you guys about maybe being my house band." I didn't hear back for two weeks. I figured, "Okay, that's my 'no', I guess." Then their manager called me back. They were in Europe and they got my message. They said, "We'd love to talk to you." I set up a meeting in (Lorne)'s office with me and my producers, Mike Schumacher and Gavin Purcell. We met with The Roots and their two managers. I pitched them my big spiel. I said, "look, number one, you're going to raise the bar for what a house band could ever be. You are a band already; you are The Roots. I don't know who to compare you to because you can play with Tony Bennett and you can play with Jay Z. It sounds great. And it makes me look good." They're that talented that they can do that. They're so diverse, I don't know who to compare them to. I don't know who else could do that. Then number two, they're from Philly. It's only an hour and a half on the (Esella) Train. It's kind of a close gig. Then I said, "Number three, we're in New York. If you want to play after the shows, there's endless clubs and places you can play in New York City." I know they love to be on stage and perform. They're hungry. They're a great band. I pitched them, and ?uestLove looked at me, He says, "I have one question. What if someone like Herbie Hancock comes into town. Can we have him play with us?" I was like, "What?" I thought he was going to ask if they could only work Wednesdays and Fridays. I was like, "Sure, Herbie Hancock? Yeah, absolutely." I want to give back to the artists that really are talented. But are not the easiest booking. I go, "Absolutely. Absolutely, man. That'd be great." Tariq and he both nodded their heads. They said, "We think we want to do this." Great. On top of that, they're funny as hell. They're going to do sketches. It's going to be good.
Is ?uestlove going to be your Paul Schaffer?
Jimmy Fallon: We've only done two test shows now. In the two test shows, Tariq is really funny. We got a great bit last night. It's a talented band.You can go from Knuckles, who's Jamaican to, Owen Biddle, who is a crazy southern Texas guy. They're all ready to play. It's going to be a lot to play with. I really, really, really struck gold. I'm so happy that they honored that and that they wanted to be my band.
Are you going to be going outside the studio at all?
Jimmy Fallon: Completely. More than other shows have done in the past I hope. I think New York City is the greatest city in the world. You can do so much stuff. It's like a huge playground. I think we're going to be more New York-centric than the shows have been in the past. I don't know why no one's really touching that. That's usually everyone's favorite moment. It's not a celebrity coming on and talking about their vacation. It's normally Conan going to pick apples with Mr. T. I don't know if you (saw) when Letterman was getting his car fixed. His car was broken down on the side of the road. Johnny pulled over and waved at him, and then took off. That was hilarious. I want to do stuff like that. Again, it's a lot of trial and error. But we're down for anything. Even if people want to come on our show and take a walk somewhere, and go do the interview outside. Great, I'll do that too. We're game. The one thing is that we don't have a budget. It's just going to be me and the camera and a microphone. We made the Webisodes work. We had no makeup, wardrobe or cameraman for that guy.
A lot of people forget that being an interviewer is a very tough skill. Do you worry about that at all? I know people think about the comedy side, but what are you doing to prepare to be a good interviewer?
Jimmy Fallon: That's a good question. Every morning I sit my wife to the right side of me and I ask her what she's going to do that day. And then we run a clip and go to a commercial. I realized after the first two test shows that it is tricky. It's hard. And I think the hardest part for me is you have these pre-interviews, these segments, like segment producers that pre-interview your guest. They give you these bullet points of what funny stories they have. And your job as the host is to hit on these bullet points. To strike up a conversation with them. So, you know, the first couple I've done I've been a little nervous. I've been like, "Hey, where are you from? Connecticut? Oh good. Do you do impressions? oh great. I heard you went on vacation, and you had a hang gliding incident. Oh, good. We'll be right back." i thought that was the worst conversation I'd ever had in my life. I think the more calm, looser I get and the more I make people feel at home and at ease, I'll make sure they look good. That's my job as the host. To make them shine. I believe it was Jack Benny who said, "I'm not funny." He said, "Rochester is funny. But people watch my show and they see Rochester. And they talk the next day at the water cooler. They say, 'Guys, did you see Jack Benny last night? He was hilarious.' I wasn't funny." I took a note from that. I'm just going to try to make my guests shine on my show. And I think between that and my house band it's going to be a good show.
Is there anyone you can't wait to interview?
Jimmy Fallon: I'd love to talk to the Queen of England. If you have her email, or any way to get in touch with her, I'd love to just pick her brain and tell her how much I lover her. I think she's super cool.
Are there any characters that you've got planned for the show that you think might be ones to watch for?
Jimmy Fallon: We were going to do a bit with a bunch of ridiculous jackass characters. We had to cut out half of them because some of them were actually hurting the show. Some of the stuff on the Web is awkward silence. I like John Paul George Ringo. He is France's most beloved Beatles one-man cover band. Which, I don't even know what that means. The guy's name is John Paul George Ringo. That just made me laugh. We probably won't do that one to be honest, but that made me laugh. There were a bunch of great ones. There was Shirtless Joe Jackson. He made me laugh. He played in the shirts and skins basketball game. He throws the big championship game. They bar him from playing basketball in any of the courts around the city. That one made me laugh. I mean, we've really got a crew of really hungry people. We took our time hiring people. There's a lot of talented people out there, but we just happened to get kind of a young hungry crew of people that are ready to give the funny.
Has Van Morrison actually seen your impersonation of him? Do you know what he thinks of it?
Jimmy Fallon: I can almost guarantee you he has no idea who I am. I could almost guarantee that to you. But, yeah, I don't even know if I'm going to show it to him, I don't know. I don't know that guy at all. I was just psyched to book him. I don't know if I want to, you know, piss him off before he comes on the show. But, yeah, I respect him, I love him and I could sing any song backup if he needs me.
You mentioned that you have full time bloggers and that you're on Twitter. What's the whole goal of having this special media stuff?
Jimmy Fallon: The goal is to give my fans other ways to enjoy Late Night in ways that haven't been done in the past. You can check out the website, or you can talk directly to me. We're not sure how it's all going to end up being used. The fact that we'll be more interactive than anyone has been before is just different. It hasn't really been done. I don't really know what's going to happen. We're willing to try it and experiment. See what happens. I think it'll be fun. We're not trying to hide the fact that people are on the Web. We're the first show to really acknowledge that people use the Internet.
You also said it's not a movie premiere. Your show is going to be on every night and you want to keep people watching. Are there any other things you're planning on that you hope will keep people tuned in every night?
Jimmy Fallon: We're going to do another blow out phone conference during the second week. It's going to be phenomenal. Honestly, I'm trusting NBC on their marketing. I don't know how to do this. They know how to sell this stuff more than I do. 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 and I'll make you laugh and then you can go to sleep or stay awake.
You can see what Jimmy Fallon has in store for late-night viewers when Late Night with Jimmy Fallon premieres on Monday, March 2 at 12:30 AM ET on NBC.