In what's shaping up to be the biggest talk-show shake-up since David Letterman left NBC, Saturday Night Live alum Jimmy Fallon is taking over Late Night from Conan O'Brien, as Conan goes to The Tonight Show and Leno goes to prime time. The movie star's first night is Monday, March 2, with guests Robert De Niro and Van Morrison, and he's filled out the week with old friends like Drew Barrymore and Tina Fey. TWoP sat in on a conference call with Fallon as he opened up about the show's interactivity, his acclaimed house band The Roots and why Shirtless Joe Jackson and Awkward Silence Bear are going to be the next big characters of Late Night.
There's a lot of late night talk shows; how do you think yours will be different?
Jimmy Fallon: I think ours will be different in the fact that 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. I think we're not going to have to hide the fact that people use the Internet and we're going to try to be as interactive as possible with our fans.
How interactive can you be, considering you tape seven hours before you air?
I know we tape at 5:30, and we air at 12:30, but I think my fans are smart enough to realize that we do tape early. And so we'll figure out some way to keep it interactive, either through Tweets or, you know, I'll tell you, "Between 5:30 and 6:30 Eastern Standard Time, please send in..." I still have to figure out how that's going to work. I'm currently on Twitter and Facebook and Flicker and Digg. We're launching a blog the same day we launch our show; 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. And the fun thing is, if it doesn't work, it's still fun to experiment and try stuff. It's 12:30 at night -- I mean, honestly, I just want to keep people awake.
Speaking of which, who do you think your audience is going to be?
Well, it could be anyone who's awake at 12:30. So that could be security guards... gosh, people at electronics stores... college kids... and then people who just are comedy junkies and need one more laugh before they go to sleep, you know? I think that's probably my audience.
So how did you end up being the new host of Late Night?
I love live standup, and when I left Saturday Night Live, [Lorne Michaels] was like, "Just remember, we're going to have to replace Conan O'Brien eventually, so keep that in the back of your head." Tina [Fey] was actually there, I think, and she was like, "That'd be pretty good," and I was like, "Yeah, no, I think I want to try movies." So I gave my shot at the movies, I had two shots (Fever Pitch and Taxi), and I didn't really do it with either of those, so that wasn't really happening for me. So then 2008 rolls around, and Lorne calls me and says, "Hey, remember that thing we were talking about five years ago?" Six months before NBC announced something, I was hearing rumors that I was the next host and all this stuff, and no one from NBC had actually contacted me at that point. I knew I was on the short list, but I didn't know who else they were going for. But I know that Lorne was pretty positive that he only would do it with me.
The video where your writers pitch different characters has some potential greats in it. Are there any that you've got planned for the show that you think might be ones to watch?
Yeah, you know, we were going to do a bit with just ridiculous, jackass characters, and we had to cut out like half of them, because some of them were actually [gonna make it] on the show. Like the Awkward Silence Bear, that was great. I even like Jean-Paul Georges-Ringeau, who is France's most beloved Beatles one-man cover band. Not even France's best one man Beatles cover band, but France's most beloved. I don't even know what that means. We probably won't do that one, to be honest, but there were a bunch of great ones. Shirtless Joe Jackson was one that made me laugh. He throws the big shirts-and-skins basketball game, and they bar him from playing basketball in any of the courts around the city.
How did you manage to get the Roots to be your house band?
You know, I was talking to my friend (Neil Brennan) who worked on The Chapelle Show and he goes, "Yeah, you know who you should get to be your house band? You should get the Roots." And I go, "Great. Do you think they would do it?" And he goes, "Oh, no -- no, they wouldn't do it, but maybe they know someone." So 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." And I didn't hear back for two weeks, and I figured, okay, that's my "no," I guess. And then their manager called me back and said, "We were in Europe and we got your message and we'd love to talk to you." So we met with Ahmir and Tariq -- or ?uestLove and Black Thoughts -- and their two managers, and I pitched them my big spiel. I said, "Look, number one, you're going to raise the bar of what a house band could ever be. I mean, you're a band already; you're The Roots. I don't know who to compare you to." Because they can play with Tony Bennett, and they could play with Jay Z, and it sounds great -- they're that talented that they can do that. And then number two, they're from Philly, it's only an hour and a half on the Acela train, so it's kind of a close gig. And then I said, "Number three, we're in New York, so if you want to play after the shows, there's endless clubs you can play," because I know they love to just be on stage and perform; they're hungry. And ?uestLove looked at me and he said, "I have one question. What if someone like Herbie Hancock comes into town -- can we have him play with us?" And I was like, "What?" I thought he was going to ask, can they only work Wednesdays and Fridays. He was like, "Sometimes those artists can't get booked, you know, and I want to give back to the artists that really are talented but aren't the easiest booking." I go, "Absolutely, man, that'd be great." And so him and Tariq both nodded their heads, and they're like "Well, we think we want to do this." Plus, on top of that, they're funny as hell, so they're going to do sketches, and it's going to be good.
How'd you score Robert De Niro as guest for your first show?
Well, De Niro was 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 a couple things here and there. We're not friends, per se; we like each other, but we're not buddies. I don't hang out at his house or anything. He never invited me over for coffee, but -- if you get that Godfather reference, I'm sorry about that. And I think he also comes off as a tough interview, and 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 Nilsson put 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, and I was honored that he said yes.
And your musical guest, Van Morrison?
With 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 music, you know that that's a phenomenal record. But I also grew up an Irish kid, and, you know, he comes on the iPod in your brain when you're born. He's one of my favorites of all time.
Has Van Morrison actually seen your impersonation of him?
I can almost guarantee you he has no idea who I am. But, yeah, 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, so I don't know if I want to piss him off before he comes on the show. But, yeah, I respect him, I love him and I could sing any 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 her e-mail or 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.
Catch the first episode of the new Late Night Monday, March 2 at 12:35 a.m., and until then, check out Jimmy's vlog!
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