Jimmy Fallon Biography
Beyond the adoring crowds at Bananas, Fallon arrived in mass consciousness thanks to Saturday Night Live, where he started as a featured player in 1998. In addition to his unimpeachable journalist skills as a pseudo-newsman on Weekend Update, Fallon has consistently served up a heaping combo platter of comedic and musical chops on SNL, as well as appearing on other television shows and in films, among them Almost Famous and a forthcoming Woody Allen movie.
Against the advice of counsel, Jimmy Fallon reluctantly agreed to phone from an undisclosed New York rest room in order to frankly and self-promotionally discuss his new album The Bathroom Wall. Here is what transpired:
Jimmy, did you ever consider the possibility that you actually sing too well to make a comedy album? Are you too good for your own good, man?
No. I never thought that. But I did want to have a comedy record that you could actually listen to. If you don’t want to pay attention to the words, you can go, "Okay, that doesn’t sound that bad. I can put up with that for two minutes." I wanted to do a song where you go, "That’s a good tune. What is that?" And then you go, "Dude, listen to the words. The song is about a snowball fight. It’s ridiculous." Other comedy albums I’ve heard have songs where you go, "This is a joke song." Or you think, "This is a joke song with really good musicians." On this album, it’s a joke song with mediocre musicians, like my buddies from high school. Actually, the drummer and bass player really know how to play. We all just gelled and ended up sounding like a decent band.
How did the album happen?
I guess it stated on the third show I did on SNL. That was the best show I ever had on Saturday Night Live. Ben Stiller was the host, and I did an impression of Adam Sandler on Celebrity Jeopardy, and on Weekend Update With Collin Quinn, I did this musical parody, and that was always in my comedy act. Some people at DreamWorks saw that and said, "Oh man, this guy is going to make a record." So they called my manager and they set this whole thing up with Mo Ostin, who has worked with Lorne Michaels before.
Mo Ostin has worked with the likes of Frank Sinatra and George Harrison, among countless others, so the only logical step up would be to work with you.
Exactly. And every comedy album ever made in the history of comedy has Mo Ostin’s name on it.
The album’s opening track, "Idiot Boyfriend," is a true modern soul classic, but I can’t quite decide whether you’re trying to sound like Prince, Mick Jagger or Leo Sayer?
I think closer to Leo Sayer than anyone. I was on tour during the SNL off weeks. I do standup at these colleges, and I’m in this hotel room and just thinking, "What would a jackass boyfriend sing to his girl?" I got this tune and the part about "I know what you want/I know what you need." I had a video camera there because I tape my act, and I just taped myself in the mirror singing the song because I didn’t want to forget it. I played it for Mark [Ronson] and Justin [Stanley], the album’s producers, and they were cool with it. And yes, I was totally going for that "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing" vibe.
Seems like a savvy commercial move because if history teaches us anything, it’s that young people today can’t get enough Leo Sayer.
I went to the research meetings over and over again, and everything always comes back to the fact that kids today love Leo Sayer. The video is a Meet The Parents thing I wrote. It’s me and Zooey Deschanel from Almost Famous. She plays my girlfriend. I’m meeting her parents and she goes, "Don’t be nervous." I go, "Why would I be nervous? You know, I’m meeting your parents and I just drank four Red Bulls." So then I meet the parents, and they’re having a party for the grandma. Long story short, they ask me to sing a song, and I finally sing "Idiot Boyfriend." And in my fantasy I’m like Leo Sayer, I’m Michael Jackson, I’m Bobby Brown from "Every Little Step." By the end of the song, I’m humping the grandma on the rocking chair, my girlfriend is crying, and they throw me out.
Have you been an idiot boyfriend yourself?
Completely. I am the worst boyfriend there is. Definitely. I’m unfocused. I do the stupidest things. I end up apologizing more than saying, "Hello."
You take a far more soulful turn on the hip-hop lament "(I Can’t Play) Basketball.” How deeply personal and confessional is that song?
I suck at basketball. I am the worst basketball player in the world. I tried out for the team every year in high school. I ended up playing on the golf team.
Okay, you can’t play hoops, but you’re still pretty fly for a white guy.
See, I try as far as I can, but I don’t know if I pull it off. I just want to say "Ahmad Rashad" in a rap. If there were going to be any rhymes, it’s an easy rhyme to put in there. No one’s put Ahmad Rashad in a rap already. And you could put in Corey Feldman and Corey Haim, too. Once again, there were big research meetings, and all the kids today, they love the Coreys.
Did you do any drinking in the woods to prepare yourself emotionally for the musical journey you take on "Drinking In The Woods?"
I wrote that song because that was all my high school parties. It’s about the art of drinking in the woods and how it’s an eternal thing. Yet there has never been a song about it. We would sing Steve Miller Band or something, but no one would know the words. So this could become a little anthem for those five kids in the middle of the woods everywhere.
The woods you were drinking in growing up were near Woodstock, right?
Yeah. I grew up in Saugerties, which is 15 minutes from Woodstock.
As a toddler, did you ever run into Bob Dylan and The Band?
I ran into The Band’s kids. I did run into Levon Helm at a deli once. He was getting some cold cuts. And when I got to DreamWorks, I got to see Robbie Robertson in the office. He was working at a computer. I was blown away.
So, in a strange way, is The Bathroom Wall the logical follow-up to The Band’s Music From Big Pink?
Yeah. This is Music From Small Pink.
What artist were you thinking of when you were recording "Drinking In The Woods?"
I wanted it to sound like a Neil Young song. But when we did it, I thought, "Now it sounds like one of those country Stones songs."
No matter what you sing, there’s usually something Jagger-ish going on in your vocals.
Oh yeah, I know. Maybe I want to be Mick Jagger. I mean, growing up, I always wanted to be him.
Does Mick know about your secret desire?
We have a budding friendship so I don’t want to squash it by saying, "I want to be you." That doesn’t work for any friendship. It tends to scare people. Mario Caldato mixed that track, Mario C. of Beastie Boys fame. We’ve got a little of everything on this album. See, I’m a comedian; I’m not a singer. I’m a comedian. That’s my thing. It’s my lot in life. And if I’m going to have an album, why not do every genre? Like The Stones used to, have a country song on there and a disco song, too.
Some comedians before you have come to take themselves seriously as singers. Will this dangerous condition ever strike you?
Never, ever, ever, never will I ever. I don’t even expect the record to do well. I just wanted to put this together so it’s like a present for people. I always want someone to work hard on a comedy record and come up with something I can listen to and play at parties.
What are the comedy albums that have meant the most to you?
Let’s Get Small by Steve Martin is definitely one. And yes, "Weird Al" Yankovic. Maybe Dare To Be Stupid.
Was Weird Al an influence on the comedic or fashion level?
I used to wear checkered shirts, and I permed my hair and wore glasses and had a cheesy mustache. I stopped doing that when I found out that Weird Jimmy Fallon didn’t work as well. Not cool. Actually the Dare To Be Stupid tour was my first concert. My parents took me to see him at UPAC (Ulster Performing Arts Center) in Ulster County.
As a standup comedian, you’ve opened up for bands. What was your toughest gig?
The toughest gig, oh boy. Maybe Woodstock ’99.
You didn’t start the fires, did you?
No, it was always burning since the world’s been turning. I was on after Counting Crows. I had a beard because I was doing Almost Famous at the time. This guy introduced me and he’s, like, "This next guy is from Saturday Night Live, Jimmy Fallon." And it was, like, "What?" I walked out and no one recognized me and somebody threw a beer bottle at me. It was in Saugerties, so I sang "My Hometown" by Bruce Springsteen. They wanted to see Limp Bizkit; they didn’t want to see Jimmy Fallon.
Rather perversely, troll dolls feature on not one, but two tracks on The Bathroom Wall? Why?
Someone gave me a troll doll as a gift for high school graduation, at the beginning of my senior year: "You are going to graduate. Here you go. Good luck."
Was this a traditional graduation gift where you come from?
Well, it was more like I couldn’t wait to throw it out because it was more like a "fuck you." It had a graduation cap on. It was totally dumb. And then my mom heard this thing on the radio about an impression contest at the Bananas comedy club. And I was dying to be on Saturday Night Live and I figured doing impressions was my way to get there. So I came up with a commercial for troll dolls where I had different celebrities auditioning to be the spokesperson. I think I closed it off with Pee Wee Herman: "I like to play with these dolls; I like to play with myself," something like that. At the time it was cutting-edge. It was like gold. I won the contest and basically, that’s the thing that got me into comedy.
So troll dolls are your "Freebird?"
They’re my "Stairway To Heaven."
On "Hammertime," you offer a loving salute to ‘80s music. Have you ever found an ‘80s song you can’t embrace?
That’s a good question. No. I love ‘80s music. I had to cut the Pet Shop Boys out because they wouldn’t give me permission. And I couldn’t find the "Come On Eileen" dude. Eventually we did and he said yes.
For the record, what do you think is your best and worst impression? My wife thinks your Robin Williams on "Troll Doll Celebrities" is frighteningly close.
I’ve got a pretty decent Cliff Clavin from Cheers. I had to put that one on the album. I mean, everyone said, "Do not put Cliff Clavin on the album. Have some respect for yourself!" I couldn’t take him off, though. He’s one of the first ones I actually nailed. It’s definitely retro, but I figured I had to do it as an homage to John Ratzenberger. I like him, and I like my Travolta. Those are my favorites.
But you don’t actually do John Travolta; you do Vinnie Barbarino.
Right, right, I do Vinnie Barbarino. That is kind of another old one. But if I did the older Travolta, it wouldn’t go over as well. It wouldn’t be that interesting. He would be talking about L. Ron Hubbard and there would be silence. But who is my worst? You know, I’ve had bad days on everybody. It’s not like I’m a master impressionist. Adam Sandler would have to be my favorite because there are three levels to him: There is the mumbling Sandler, then there’s the gibberish Sandler, and then there’s the loud Sandler. You need all three components.
You’re not a mad scientist of impressions like your SNL colleague Darrell Hammond.
No. Darrell studies it. I hang out in the room with somebody for an hour, then I leave and I can do them. That’s just the way it works; that’s just what happens with my brain. It’s a weird thing. If I go see Rocky, at the end of the movie, I feel like working out and fighting somebody. It just happens. I’m not a violent person, but I can’t help it. I watch Seinfeld, at the end of the episode I can pretty much do Seinfeld.
Oh, so you’re a sad and pitiful imitation of a man, who really just rips off everyone he sees.
Yeah. If I hang out with you for two hours, I’m going to talk like you. I’ve been doing this Woody Allen film. I come home and it takes me 20 minutes to get in the door because I’m doing him.
Back to the troll dolls. Now, between the two troll-doll tracks, do you feel you might kick off a troll-doll revival?
Oh man, I wouldn’t mind that. The troll has been good to me. I’d love the troll to get famous again. I mean, man, that would be like the coolest thing ever. I think every troll doll around the world would be thanking me, as well as collectors on eBay.
I’m not suggesting you’re sophomoric, but the standup material on the album clearly seems to come from a college gig.
It was one night at Northeastern University in Boston.
Was that a typical college live show experience for you?
Yeah. We taped a bunch of shows and I just felt like that one was a real show. It’s not all kiss-ass going crazy. They’re just real moments, and that’s why I wanted to keep the whole thing where this girl introduces me. It’s just my favorite thing ever. I had to leave it on the record, where she segues into introducing me by saying, "I hope everyone enjoyed homecoming this year." And then she goes, "And now, Jimmy Fallon." It makes me laugh every time. It was, like, "I’m the homecoming chair. I’m stressed out. I hope they love this concert. I don’t know if it’s going to be funny. It might stink. I don’t know." You can’t write that. It’s so cute and so innocent. It’s like saying, "Hope everyone enjoyed the Hackey Sack party." The air conditioning isn’t working. Somebody is booing. "And here’s Jimmy Fallon."
Your album also includes the chillingly powerful anthem "Snowball." Are you pissed off that you’re not Jewish so you can’t have a Chanukah hit like Adam Sandler?
I was thinking of doing a cover of "The Chanukah Song," believe it or not, but I decided not to. Maybe that’s for the box set.