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 a new book called Thank You Notes. He talks with Terry Gross about giving thanks and doing impressions.

Late Night 'Thank You Notes' From Jimmy Fallon

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


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: 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?


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. Im 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 didnt 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, whos 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 thats 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 wed 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. Hes becoming a manager in L.A. and I gave him my tape and resume and my headshot, which was awful. My first headshot, its gosh, I'm wearing so much makeup its insane. I look like Tammy Faye Baker.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: But its - 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, shes like wed 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? Whats 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, thats 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 thats all I really want to do. Thats 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?


Mr. FALLON: So I would do different impressions. I'd do like Bill Cosby going like we know the people to take the troll. Hes 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 didnt 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 wed like to see Jimmy again but tell him not to do the troll bit. Weve 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 its 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 hes 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 NBCs Late Night. His new book is called Thank You Notes. Well talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If youre just joining us, my guest is Jimmy Fallon, the host of Late Night, and he has a new book called Thank You Notes. Its 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. Youre 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: 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 theres a guy going no, thank you. Yes, oh, Mr. Happys going no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: Its (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 whos 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. Youre the computer guy. Yeah. Duh. The printers 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 didnt understand. I'd be like, Ill 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 Ill 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 dont care. This is - dont 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 youd be great at doing Weekend Update. And I go, I dont think so. I dont really read the newspaper that much. I dont 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 Tinas 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 youre 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 Tinas not on the show. No one knows who she is. Shes the head writer. I go, what about maybe me and Tina? And hes like yeah, I like that. I would see what thats like. I like that idea.

So he set up a test screening of me and Tina Fey and I in Conan OBriens 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 shes the smart one and youre the guy who forgot to do his homework and you need to cheat off her. Thats 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 thats 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 couldnt 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, thats 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 dont like mayonnaise? Like youre not like Mr. I Like Everything. Like I hate mayonnaise. I think its the most disgusting condiment that exists. But I can just say that because why not? Thats who I am. And its like, you know, I dont know.

GROSS: So after years and years of wanting to be on "Saturday Night Live," youre on it, youre a big success, youre 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 dont know. Yeah, I guess, I dont know what's the problem, but I didnt 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, thats where the drinking started.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: No, no, no, no, no. But that's - but that was a very - its 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 its like, I mean I slept in my office I dont 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, youre happy for everybody but youre always, youre also jealous of everybody and you go, man. And then, you know, but, you know, I dont know, its just, its 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, Ill try movies or something. I dont know. And he goes would you ever think of maybe like hosting a talk show? I go no, what do you mean? Hes like well, Conan OBrien just signed this deal for like hes 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 its 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.


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,, where you can also download podcasts of our show.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.