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Jimmy Fallon On The School Of 'SNL' And His Tendency To Smile Too Much

"I'm meant to make people happy. That's my job," says <em>Tonight Show</em> host Jimmy Fallon.
Theo Wargo
Getty Images for NBC
"I'm meant to make people happy. That's my job," says Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon.

It's not uncommon for comics to be influenced by depression, anxiety or troubled childhoods, but Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon insists his comedy doesn't come from a dark place.

"I was always a happy kid," Fallon says. "I remember there was a report card from kindergarten and the comment from the teacher was, 'Jimmy smiles too much,' which was very interesting. ... I think I would smile even when I was getting yelled at."

That tendency to smile has stayed with Fallon. On The Tonight Show, his brand of humor is decidedly upbeat — even during tragic news cycles.

"We follow the news on most channels ... and then it's our job to make fun of whatever we can make fun of, and just make you laugh as you doze off," Fallon says. "That's kind of my goal: My goal is that you have sweet dreams."

Fallon also has a new children's book, Everything is MAMA, which is a follow-up to his 2015 book, Your Baby's First Word Will Be DADA. The father of two says he loves being a dad and especially enjoys reading with his young daughters: "It's really interesting. I'm literally watching someone learn how to read in front of me."

Interview Highlights

On the acting class he took when he was getting started

I go in and I was really into James Dean at the time. ... I read all these biographies. James Dean never acted in his acting class, he just observed. I go, "Oh, how cool! That is so James Dean and cool."

So I would go to [the] class, I'd pay money — which I didn't have — but I'd pay money for this class, and I would say, "No, I just want to observe." And I'd sit in the back of the class and just watch the acting class. [The teacher] was like, "Jimmy, are you sure? I mean, you should just get down here and just try." And I'd go, "No, I'm good. I'm good. I'm just gonna observe!" ...

So I kind of just did that. I didn't really act in the acting class and it really paid off, as you can see in my movie roles.

On how his time on Saturday Night Live taught him to pay attention to detail

The thing I love about Saturday Night Live is the attention to detail that's not even part of the sketch. They'll do a sketch about, I don't know, Roosevelt, and they'll show all these paintings of ships in the back, because Roosevelt had this one room where people kept giving him paintings of ships for some reason. So it's not part of the sketch, but if you're a fan of Franklin D. Roosevelt you'll see there's paintings of ships in the back of a sketch, and you go, "Oh, that's a deep cut!" It's not part of the sketch, it's just attention to details.

So little things like that, I always think of when we're doing our show, like, could that be better? Would that be the microphone they use in 1983? ... Those little details I freak out about. I love looking at that, and so does our crew and our wardrobe and our hair department.

On receiving criticism for asking candidate Donald Trump if he could tousle his hair on The Tonight Show

I don't really know how to deal with this presidency, so I'm kind of learning as I'm going. The hair mess thing, you know, I asked him questions — as hard-hitting questions as I'm going to ask. I asked him if he knew Vladimir Putin. I asked him did he have any contact with him, was he friends with him. I asked him those questions.

It doesn't get brought up, because everyone just saw the hair thing and they go, "Ugh! I can't believe he messed his hair up and showed how cool he was." I'm like, "I don't know if that's a cool thing."

I don't really know how to deal with this presidency, so I'm kind of learning as I'm going.

If I went up to you and messed your hair up, is that cool? I don't know. ... I touched the guy's hair that everyone wanted to touch. Everyone's like, "Is it real? Is it a toupee? What is it? What's underneath there? What is going on?"

On almost losing his finger to ring avulsion

I tripped and fell in my kitchen. [I was] just running around, and I put my hand on the countertop to catch my fall and my wedding ring got caught on the sharp edge of my countertop. I fell down, but my ring ... didn't move it all. ... It just ripped the whole end of my finger off, tendons and everything. I didn't know what had happened and I just saw blood coming out. ... I wrapped a dishtowel around my hand and ran in a cab and went to the emergency room. ...

I was in Bellevue ICU for 10 days. Dr. David Chiu was the micro-surgeon, plastic surgeon, who saved my finger. They were going to cut it off. It's crazy. So right now this was the second surgery, this is my last one, but they put a tendon in there from my wrist and they put membrane from my rib cage and they injected fat into the side of the finger so it looks straighter, which they took from the bottom of my hand.

On whether his time in the hospital made him think about the show differently

The best thing about my show is that I know that there's people who are going through a tough time and hurting, and I get notes from them and I get social media from them. And I know there's people in the ICU, and there's people in the hospital that can't even send notes, but trust me, I'm sending them the best vibes. And I want them to laugh and get through whatever they're going through and get out of there, go home, get out of that hospital, get well. ... I'm meant to make people happy. That's my job. That's what I'm supposed to do on this earth. And I'm going to do whatever I can to make people happy.

Sam Briger and Thea Chaloner produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Nicole Cohen adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2023 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.
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