James Thomas Fallon (born September 19, 1974) is an American comedian, actor, television host, singer, writer, and producer. He is known for his work in television as a cast member on Saturday Night Live and as the host of late-night talk show The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and before that Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. He grew up with an interest in comedy and music, moving to Los Angeles at 21 to pursue opportunities in stand-up comedy.
He was commissioned to join NBC's Saturday Night Live as a cast member in 1998, fulfilling a lifelong dream. Fallon remained on SNL for six years between 1998 and 2004, co-hosting the program's Weekend Updatesegment and becoming a celebrity in the process. He left the program for the film industry, starring in films such as Taxi (2004) and Fever Pitch (2005).
Following his film career, Fallon returned to television as the host of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on NBC in 2009, where he became well known for his emphasis on music and games. He moved from that program to become the sixth permanent host of the long-running The Tonight Show in 2014. In addition to his television work, Fallon has released two comedy albums and five books.
James Thomas Fallon was born in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York on September 19, 1974, the son of Gloria (née Feeley) and James W. Fallon. He is of German, Irish, and Norwegian descent. His paternal grandmother, Luise Schalla, was a German immigrant from Osterholz-Scharmbeck, while one of his maternal great-grandfathers, Hans Hovelsen, was a Norwegian immigrant from Fredrikstad. Another set of great-great-grandparents were Thomas Fallon, an Irishman from County Galway, and Louisa Stickever, the daughter of an Irishman born in France and his Irish wife.
A Vietnam War veteran, Fallon's father spent his adolescence singing in street-corner doo-wop groups. Shortly after his son's birth, he started working as a machine repairman for IBM in Kingston, New York. In preparation, the family relocated nearby to Saugerties, New York. Fallon has described his childhood as "idyllic", while his parents have been described as overprotective. He and his sister, Gloria, were unable to leave their home and had to ride their bicycles in the backyard. Fallon attended the Roman Catholicschool St. Mary of the Snow. He considered being a priest, inspired by his experiences as an altar boy, but became more interested in comedy instead. He spent many nights recording the radio program The Dr. Demento Show on a reel-to-reel recorder, which exposed him to both comedy and music.
As a teenager, Fallon developed an obsession with the late-night comedy program Saturday Night Live, watching it religiously. He grew up watching the show, viewing "the clean parts" that his parents taped for him. He and Gloria would re-enact sketches like "The Festrunk Brothers" with friends. Fallon was such a fan that he made a weekly event of watching the show in his dormitory during college. In his teens, he impressed his parents with different impersonations, including actor James Cagney and comedian Dana Carvey. He was also musically inclined, and started playing guitar at age 13. He would go on to perform comedy and music in contests and shows. By his junior high years, he was labeled a class clown, to his teachers' dismay, but was also described as "nice and well-mannered".
At Saugerties High School, from which he graduated in 1992, he was a performer in most stage productions, and was twice a class social director. He won a young comedian's contest with an impression of Pee-wee Herman. He then attended The College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York, where he was first a computer science major, later switching to communications in his senior year. In May 2009, 14 years after he left college a semester early to pursue a comedy career, he returned to receive his Bachelor of Arts in communications. He was a double headliner that day at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, earning an honorary degree reflecting his achievements and then joining classmates to collect his degree. St. Rose awarded Fallon his diploma after he earned experiential learning credits through a portfolio review of his television work. He was an average student, often taking stand-up gigs on the weekends. Fallon would often board buses from his aunt's in Fort Hamilton to Caroline's comedy club in Times Square to perform sets.
Fallon dropped out of the College of Saint Rose a semester shy of a degree in 1995 to move to Los Angeles and pursue comedy full-time. He secured a manager and got bookings by the age of 21. He often did stand-up at the Improv, earning $7.50 per set, and he joined classes with the Groundlings, an improv comedy troupe. He appeared in the feature film The Scheme (originally entitled The Entrepreneurs). His one line in Father's Day was cut, but he can still be seen in the background. In 1998, Fallon appeared briefly on the show Spin City in the second season as a man selling photographs.
He remained fixated on joining Saturday Night Live. After two years of working with the Groundlings, he auditioned for the program in 1997, but was unsuccessful. When he was cast in a pilot presentation for The WB, Fallon made sure to include a clause in his contract specifying that if he were to join SNL he would be released from his contract. His manager sent videotapes to Marci Klein and Ayala Cohen, producers for SNL.
This was my ultimate goal. If I ever cut into a birthday cake and made a wish, I would wish to be on SNL. If I threw a coin into a fountain, I would wish to be on SNL. If I saw a shooting star, I would wish to be on SNL. [...] I remember saying to myself, 'If I don't make it on [the show] before I'm 25, I'm going to kill myself.' It's crazy. I had no other plan. I didn't have friends, I didn't have a girlfriend, I didn't have anything going on. I had my career, that was it.
Fallon landed his second audition at the age of 23. At the "notoriously difficult audition," he was told by multiple individuals that creator Lorne Michaels almost never emitted laughter during auditions. Although he initially feared the comic before him, armed with an arsenal of props, would outshine him, Fallon went onstage and did well. He showcased his impressions with a celebrity walk-a-thon, including impressions of Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Bill Cosby, and Adam Sandler, an SNL alumnus who had recently left the show. The latter received laughter from the room, including Michaels.
Head writer Tina Fey, who was in the room, later said "He's one of two people I've ever seen who was completely ready to be on the show. Kristen Wiig is the other one... And Jimmy was ready—like, if there had been a show to do that night." He rushed through his original characters in order to arrive at his musical impressions, which he felt were stronger. Three weeks passed, and despite his feeling that he had not gotten the position, he was asked to meet with Michaels at the Paramount lot in Los Angeles. Michaels informed him that they wanted him for the show, and Fallon characterized the moment as being in "slow motion," remarking to Michaels before he left, "I'm going to make you proud."
Saturday Night Live years
Early seasons (1998–2000)
Fallon debuted on Saturday Night Live as a featured player at the beginning of the show's twenty-fourth season in September 1998. He became a star by his fourth episode, when he performed Halloween-themed versions of songs by popular artists, as well as his Sandler impression. His sudden popularity made Fallon a celebrity, where he was considered charming. Fallon possessed a strong female fan-base, receiving numerous letters from fans and becoming the subject of numerous fan-sites. He became the program's most featured mimic, with popular impressions of Robert De Niro, Jerry Seinfeld, and Howard Stern. In addition, he also starred as many original characters, including Nick Burns, an IT Support nerd, Pat "Sully" Sullivan, one of the Boston Teens with Rachel Dratch, and in Jarret's Room, a fictional webcast hosted by stoner college students Jarret (Fallon) and Gobi (Horatio Sanz). He was promoted to repertory player in his second season.
In his off time, Fallon released a book comprising e-mail exchanges with his sister, titled I Hate This Place: A Pessimist's Guide to Life (1999), and filmed a minor role for the film Almost Famous (2000). During their time at SNL, Fallon and Horatio Sanz often drank together. Sanz has described Fallon and himself as "super-functioning alcoholics," and stated, "They say that kind of goes hand in hand with SNL, some kind of substance-abuse issues, because it's so stressful you easily find yourself blowing off steam a lot." For example, on one occasion, they spent a Friday night watching The Strokes perform a midnight show, staying up until the early morning drinking, despite having to do SNL that night. "We actually took what we thought being on SNL was, what people think is awesome about it, and we made it happen," said Sanz, who noted that he and Fallon got in more than a few bar fights.
Later years (2001–04)
Fallon initially envisioned he would spend three years at SNL, like Belushi, but he was persuaded to stay on for an additional three when given the reins to Weekend Update (which he would co-host with writer Tina Fey). His co-hosting of Weekend Update increased his profile even more. During this tenure, he formed a close relationship with Michaels, whom he'd consult with on anything from dating to career advice. Fallon called a December 2001 sketch in which he imitates Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger in a mirror opposite Jagger his favorite thing he had done up to that point.
In his later years on SNL, Fallon co-starred in skit titled The Barry Gibb Talk Show alongside musician Justin Timberlake, where the duo portrayed Bee Gees brothers Barry and Robin Gibb. It marked the beginning of a long-running friendship and collaboration with Timberlake.
Fallon became well known for his tendency to break character in sketches, an attribute he himself, as well as Michaels, disliked. It began in the infamous "More cowbell" sketch, when Will Ferrell wore a tighter shirt than expected, causing Fallon to crack up. Following this, other cast members would intentionally try to get Fallon to break. Other cast members believed he was attempting to steal the moment, to make the sketch about himself. The joke became near-constant during Fallon's final year on the show. During this time, Fallon parlayed his SNL success into co-hosting the 2001 MTV Movie Awards and 2002 MTV Video Music Awards, and the recording on his debut comedy album, The Bathroom Wall (2002), which was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album. He also modeled for Calvin Klein. Fallon was named one of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People in 2002, an honor Fallon found embarrassing.
Movie career (2004–08)
Fallon began to pursue a movie career beginning in 2004. He had spurned most major roles due to lack of time and disinterest in the dozens of scripts he read. He signed on for his first lead role in Taxi, a remake of a French film. Fallon had read the script in the prior years but became more interested when co-star Queen Latifah became attached to the project. He was also attracted to the film's action comedy tone, seeing comparisons with SNL alumnus Eddie Murphy's first big film, 48 Hrs. (1982).
He split his time in the fall of 2003 between shooting the film in Los Angeles and returning to New York City for SNL. Due to these conflicts (and his contract ending), his sixth season at SNL was his final, with Fallon signing off at the conclusion of the show's twenty-ninth season in May 2004.
With big expectations from the studio, Taxi premiered in the fall of 2004 and was a flop with critics and audiences, resulting in Fallon's first failure. 20th Century Fox had already signed him on for his second major role, starring opposite Drew Barrymore in the 2005 romantic comedy Fever Pitch. Fever Pitch did not fare much better than Taxi, receiving mild reviews and tepid box office returns. He met his wife, producer Nancy Juvonen, during production of the film and the two wed in December 2007.
Film offers decreased, with his two chances for major films both considered failures. Subsequently, Fallon went through what he has deemed a "lost period," characterized by a larger-than-usual alcohol consumption and confusion over his next career moves. He wrote a screenplay during this time "about a guy in a goth band who has to pretend to be a country-music star." Following his failure in film, Fallon moved back east to New York, spending "a couple of years aimlessly knocking around."
Prior to leaving SNL, Michaels had mentioned to Fallon that he would be a good fit to take over NBC's Late Night franchise when then-host Conan O'Brien would depart the show to host the long-running Tonight Show in the future. Michaels urged NBC to give Fallon a holding deal in February 2007 so that he couldn't be lured elsewhere.
To prepare for the role of a late-night host, Fallon toured college campuses and comedy clubs for eight months, where he tested out a new, 50-minute routine. He also began watching the comedy of Chevy Chase, Dick Cavett, and Johnny Carson, as well as The Larry Sanders Show. In May 2008, Fallon was announced as the successor to O'Brien's Late Night.
Fallon was considered an odd choice for the job, both by executives at NBC (who "hated" the idea and predicted it to be a failure), and among the general public. This was referenced in an early promo for the series: "You loved him on SNL! You hated him in the movies! Now you're ambivalent."
Back to television and Late Night (2009–13)
Late Night with Jimmy Fallon premiered in March 2009 to mixed reviews. Producer Michael Shoemaker felt that the show's style solidified when it used Susan Boyle as a joke. While other late-night programs had centered on her appearance, Fallon's Late Night debuted a sketch in which Boyle's emotional performances could "salve any affliction." It was this style of humor, that Adam Sternbergh of New York dubbed "the comedy of unabashed celebration", that led to the program's success.
Fallon proved himself different from other late-night hosts, with more of a reliance on music, dancing, impersonations, and games.
Between Fallon's own musical sensibilities and the recruitment of his house band, hip-hop collective The Roots, his incarnation of Late Night "evolved into the most deeply musical of TV's musical-comedy variety programs", with sketches in which he parodies Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen going viral online. Coincidentally, it was during the Tonight Show debacle that Fallon's show found its footing.
Another component built into the program was its association with social media and the Internet. The first majorly successful online clip was of Fallon and Justin Timberlake performing a "History of Rap". Online interaction and its presence on the show soon became crucial to its success. As of August 2013, Fallon was earning a salary of $11 million a year for his work on Late Night.
Fallon also hosted the 62nd Primetime Emmy Awards in 2010. In 2012, Fallon released his second comedy album, Blow Your Pants Off, which compiles many of his musical performances on Late Night. The album won a Grammy in 2013 for Best Comedy Album. Discussions for Fallon to take over The Tonight Show began in early 2013.