PLAYBOY: Taxi is your first major film role since leaving Saturday Night Live. Are you worried about making the leap from TV to movies?
JIMMY FALLON: Yeah, I’m kinda nervous. Movies and TV are very different. SNL happens so fast. You come up with an idea on Monday and then you perform it on Saturday, good or bad. But when you make a movie, you have to wait a year before you even see it. You don’t know how it’s being edited or what it’s going to be like. It’s out of your control. I just have to remind myself that America is very forgiving. You’ll always get a second chance. They’ll let an actor do eight flops, and if the ninth one is a hit, they’ll call you a genius.
PLAYBOY: Unlike most Saturday Night alumni, you haven’t made a film based on one of your recurring SNL characters. For the entire movie-going public, we’d like to thank you for sparing us Jarrett’s Room: The Movie.
JIMMY FALLON: I never wanted to do that. I wanted the show to be one thing and the movies another. There should be a separation. I was a fan of all those SNL movies, but I never wanted to make one myself. I had a few offers to make a movie about Jarrett, and I told them, “Great. See if (SNL castmate) Seth Myers wants to do it. I don’t mind. Somebody else will have to play Jarrett, but sure, go for it.” I’ll go see it, but I wouldn’t be in it. It’s tough to do an SNL movie. Right out of the box, people suspect the worst. I was happy that Mean Girls surprised everyone, because there was a lot of cynicism. “Oh great, another Lorne Michaels movie.” He doesn’t get credit, but the guy has really good taste in comedy.
PLAYBOY: Your character in Taxi is an undercover cop investigating a gang of hot female bank robbers. Based on your research, are most crimes committed by attractive and scantily clad women?
JIMMY FALLON: Yes, surprisingly enough. But the media doesn’t let you see that. It’s a big cover-up. Most bank robbery related crime – I’d say at least 75% – is committed by Brazilian supermodels.
PLAYBOY: Are you the product of overprotective parents or did they let you run wild as a kid?
JIMMY FALLON: I was very sheltered growing up. My parents used to make my sister and I wear football helmets in the back yard. We had an awesome swing set on a tree, and it would’ve been the greatest thing ever if it wasn’t for the helmets. People would walk by and go, “Look at the idiot Fallon kids.” My grandparents lived very close to us, almost in our back yard. They were watching my mom, my mom was watching us, and everybody was like, “Keep an eye on the baby. Don’t let the baby cross the street.” My mom is still that way. I got a Vespa at one of these award shows, and one day I took it over to her house to show it off. I drove it down the street and when I came back, my mom was in tears. “Don’t do that ever again!”
PLAYBOY: You’re best known for your celebrity impersonations. Can you imitate anybody, or are there certain characteristics or tics that you’re drawn to?
JIMMY FALLON: If I hang out with anybody long enough, I can do an impression of them. If I watched an episode of Seinfeld, for instance, by the end I could do Jerry or anybody else from the show. You know how when you go see Rocky, at the end of the movie you feel like fighting? It’s like that. It starts with one sentence sticking in your head. I’ll play that sentence over and over again. Like with Jimmy Stewart, it’d be something like, (As Jimmy Stewart) “Walk you home, Mary? Is that what you want?” And then you just take it from there. (SNL castmate) Fred Armisen and I used to have this running joke where we were two Jimmy Stewarts hanging out in a room, listening to a new CD. (As Jimmy Stewart.) “What the fuck is this? It’s the new Limp Bizkit? I fucking paid fucking twenty dollars for this. It’s a fucking waste of fucking money. I could have bought a Beatles record.” We’d have arguments with each other as two Jimmy Stewarts. We literally wasted hours doing that.
PLAYBOY: At what age did you discover that you had a talent for impersonations?
JIMMY FALLON: I was two years old. I don’t really remember it, but my parents have it on tape. I did James Cagney. My mom said, “Do James Cagney,” so I said, “You dirty rat.” When I was a little older, I liked to imitate people in my neighborhood. I’d hang out with this kid named Joey Gonzales and when I came back home, my mom would start yelling, “Would you please stop talking like Joey?” I didn’t even realize I was doing it. As a teenager, I imitated everyone on Saturday Night Live. I did the classics like Steve Martin and Bill Murray and Eddie Murphy. I learned how to do all of their characters. In high school, I did this thing called Saugherties Night Live. Saugherties is my hometown. There was a lip synching talent show at school that I had absolutely no interest in. But then this kid Tim Sutton came up with the idea of doing impressions from Saturday Night Live. I did Ed Grimley and a few others. It was actually one of the first times that I performed in front of people.
PLAYBOY: Did you always want to be a comic, or did you consider another career path?
JIMMY FALLON: I was obsessed with being a mailman for awhile. Mostly because they have the cool cars with no doors. And I love the uniforms because they get to wear shorts during the summer. That’s not bad. I’d love to go through a drive-thru in a mail truck. I also wanted to be a priest at one point. I really got into church and mass and all that stuff. I’m Irish-Catholic so I grew up watching movies like The Bells of St. Mary’s and Boys Town, where a priest was looked up to and respected. I went to a Catholic grade school, so up until I was twelve I was seriously considering becoming a priest. But the girl thing kinda ruined that. That’s the one bad thing about being a priest, you can’t marry. I just don’t have that kind of self-control.
PLAYBOY: You were a computer science major in college. Were you poised to become a living incarnation of Nick Burns, the snide company computer guy?
JIMMY FALLON: I got pretty close. But I switched my major in the fourth year because it was getting too hard. I had just finished COBall and I was going into C++. That’s for the nerds out there. C++ is a really hard language. The biggest thing I wrote was a program for video rentals. It allowed you to self-check in your video and it’d automatically charge you for an overdue video. I eventually switched my major to Communications, which I never ended up finishing. I spent most of my time studying comedy. Me and my friend Frank Gentile would write standup bits in the laundromat of our dorm and drink 40-ouncers. We both loved Saturday Night Live and we wouldn’t allow anybody else in the room when we watched the show. We’d even kick my roommate out, just so we could really focus on it.
PLAYBOY: Your first real TV gig was on a cable access sketch show called Loose Camera. At the time, did it seem like your big break?
JIMMY FALLON: Pretty much. And I was lucky even to get on it at all. When I read about the Loose Camera auditions, they called it “Albany’s version of Saturday Night Live.” I was like, “That’s close enough for me.” Frank and I both auditioned and he got in and I didn’t. But he told the cast, “You should look at this Jimmy Fallon guy again.” So they hired me and I ended up writing two sketches that actually got on the air. One was about an NPR disk jockey that broadcasts out of his mother’s basement. He hires a shock jock to be his new morning co-host and it doesn’t work out. The other one was called Donkey Boy. It was an after school special about a donkey. There were a lot of ass jokes. I look at it now with a little embarrassment, but at the time it seemed brilliant.
PLAYBOY: You’ve often cited Paul Ruebens as one of your main inspirations. Was that because of the comedy or the public masturbation?
JIMMY FALLON: A combination of both. As a kid, I loved his movies and I loved how creative he was. Pee-Wee Herman is such a great character. The idea of a guy who will never grow up has such an appeal to me. It’s a nice, affirming message that I can really relate to. I’d be happy if I could ever write a character nearly as inspired as Pee-Wee. As for the masturbation, it’s been said before but I’ll say it again. Where is Paul Ruebens allowed to masturbate, anyway?
PLAYBOY: Is Saturday Night Live as surreal a work environment as we might imagine?
JIMMY FALLON: More so. It’s the only job where you can go in and speak nonsense for hours. But there are times when it really warps you. There was one day when I went to work at 30 Rockefeller and when I came into the office there were dudes running around in Hazmat suits. I didn’t think anything of it. I just assumed we’d been working on a sketch about nuclear fallout or something. No big deal, right? Well, it turns out they’d discovered Anthrax in the building, and the dudes in Hazmat suits were for real. By the time I figured it out, it was too late to leave. I’d been sitting around all afternoon, just drinking my coffee and working on new material. I figured it out when I saw some people crying. I was like, “Wait a minute, this isn’t part of a sketch?”
PLAYBOY: You had a reputation at SNL for being the cast member most likely to break character. How does a guy end up in comedy without being able to keep a straight face?
JIMMY FALLON: I’ll take my share of responsibility, but it’s not entirely my fault. It became a thing with Will Ferrell to try and make me laugh. It started with the cowbell sketch, where Blue Oyster Cult is recording “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and the producer wants more and more cowbell. I was just about to do my line when I looked over at Will, and his gut was hanging out of his shirt and his glasses were flying off and he’s sweating and his eyes were nuts, and I just lost it. So that became a running thing with Will. We did a scene in a hot tub and Will was pinching my leg under the water. Nobody could see what he was doing, so it just looked like I was breaking. I’ve apologized to (producer) Lorne Michael over and over again, but there came a point where he just didn’t care anymore.
PLAYBOY: What was your single favorite experience at Saturday Night Live?
JIMMY FALLON: Probably the mirror sketch with Mick Jagger. That was the coolest thing I’ve ever done. When I heard he was doing the show, I kept begging the writers, “Please, please put me in a sketch with Mick.” It wasn’t until Thursday before I had the courage to approach him with some ideas. He shot down most of my stuff. I pitched him a sketch where he’d be playing Keith Richards. The idea was that Keith had cloned himself so he could party while the other one sleeps. It’d be like tag-team Keiths. But Mick didn’t want to do it. So finally I pitched him the mirror thing, and by way of example I did an impersonation of him. (Dancing as Mick Jagger.) “C’mon man, do the rooster. You know what to do. Everything likes it when you point your fingers. You do that great, when you point at people.” That made him laugh and he agreed to try it. So midnight on Friday I went to his hotel suite to hang out. We had some tea and talked about what songs we were going to sing. We sang ten Rolling Stones songs together. He’s absolutely as cool as you think he is. I’ve never met anyone like him who actually lived up to your expectations.
PLAYBOY: On Weekend Update, you usually dressed like a kid who was late for church. Was the disheveled look intentional, or do you honestly have a problem tucking in your own shirts?
JIMMY FALLON: Doing Update was one of the first times that I ever had to wear a suit. I learned how to tie a tie from Update. I didn’t know how to do it before I became a co-anchor. So I guess it was good for me. Now I actually enjoy ties and suits. It’s a whole new world of wardrobes that I never knew anything about. As for the disheveled part, well, my hair has always been messy. That’s just the way I am. I tried combing it to the side once, but it made me look like a news reporter from the 30s.
PLAYBOY: There’s been speculation that young people get most of their news from either Weekend Update or The Daily Show. Do you actually believe that? And if so, did you ever feel a responsibility to be both funny and informative?
JIMMY FALLON: I never took it that seriously. Weekend Update was just another sketch. I was just playing a news guy. For me, the fun thing about Update wasn’t the news itself, but that we could literally do whatever we wanted. I was watching an old rerun of The Tonight Show during the Carson years, and there was one bit where he did this ridiculous commercial parody. (As Johnny Carson.) “Do you suffer from diarrhea?” And then he gets hit in the face with three pies. All I could think was, some writer got paid to come up with that. There’s no ending. There’s no real reason for it at all. But it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. So I came to the writers and said, “I want to get hit with pies this week.” And we made it happen.
PLAYBOY: You and Tina Fey always seemed like the perfect match. Was this a fabricated friendship or did you have a relationship prior to becoming co-anchors?
JIMMY FALLON: She’s honestly a friend. She wrote a lot of stuff for me when I first joined the cast. She did all the Sully and Denise sketches. When we both got Update, there was never any competition whatsoever. It was always about making it work, finding ways to make it funnier. Tina is very giving. If we went into dress rehearsals and I didn’t have any jokes, she’d give me a few of hers. If my joke bombed, she’d say something funny and bring the audience back. Outside the show, though, we didn’t really hang out. She doesn’t drink that much, so it rules out any social interaction. It’s the only way I can hang out with people. (SNL castmate) Horatio Sanz and I spend a lot of time together, and brother that man can drink. We’ve come up a lot of great material when we’ve been drinking.
PLAYBOY: If Tina gets a new male co-anchor, can we count on you to make unannounced visits to the Update set, stinking drunk and begging her to take you back?
JIMMY FALLON: That’s gonna happen either way. They’ve already changed the locks on the studio, but I’ll get in there somehow. When I told her I was leaving, it took her about a second to get over it. That really hurt. (Laughs.) But we’ll find a way to work together. Maybe a road film, like Hope and Crosby. It’ll be me and her and a rapping old lady. Or maybe we’ll have an animal sidekick that gives us advice. I keep pitching her movie ideas but she won’t return any of my phone calls.
PLAYBOY: Why did you decide to leave Saturday Night Live?
JIMMY FALLON: Well, I’d been on the show for six years, and that was three years longer that I planned. Three years always seemed better. I think John Belushi only did three, yeah? I don’t want to be the guy who stays at the party too long. Besides, you can always come back as an alumni. Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase would visit the show occasionally, and they’re very cool. Aykroyd, especially. That man knows how to party. He knows how to have a good time. And he’s really good at it. He took me and a few other cast members on a tour of the building, showed us all the secret places. There’s a window that leads to an outdoor lawn with grass and a pond. I can’t say any more than that. I don’t want to give away a floor. But trust me, there’s definitely a secret cool place. There are several of them, actually. When Aykroyd was on SNL during the 70s, he was friendly with some of the janitors, so they gave him keys to all the secret rooms. He had a chance to explore every inch of 30 Rockefeller.
PLAYBOY: How have you adjusted to leaving SNL and joining the outside world again?
JIMMY FALLON: It’s been a very strange transition. When you’re doing the show, it’s like running a race. When it’s over, you just want to do it again. At the moment, I’m having trouble sleeping because I’m used to staying up late. I have to remind myself that I don’t have to do that anymore. But for better or worse, that’s what I’ve become. My normal sleep patterns are long gone.
PLAYBOY: You wrote a book with your sister called I Hate This Place: The Pessimist’s Guide to Life. Do you consider yourself a pessimist, or does comedy require a bit of doom and gloom?
JIMMY FALLON: I try to be an optimist, but it doesn’t always work out. Actually, the book was our way of making ourselves laugh during some tough times. She had just graduated from college and I moved out to LA and neither one of us had jobs. We were both thinking the same thing: What have I done? When does life get good? We were very depressed and we started e-mailing each other these really mean-spirited affirmations, just trying to make the other person laugh. I showed a few of them to my manager, and he convinced us to do the book. It flopped, but I still think of myself as an author. That’s how I like to be introduced in social circles. Y’know, J.D. Salinger and I have a lot in common. I’m not a reclusive genius, and I’ve hosted a few more MTV Award Shows than he has, but we’re both published authors and our names both start with J.
PLAYBOY: Your first album, The Bathroom Wall, had more rock songs than comedy routines. And you’re not the first comic to do this. Adam Sandler and Eddie Murphy also tried their hand at legitimate music careers. Why do so many comedians want to be rock stars?
JIMMY FALLON: I can’t speak for Sandler or Murphy, but I grew up surrounded by music. The radio was always on in our house. My dad sang in a doo-wop band in Brooklyn, and I learned all the lyrics to all his songs. When I was young, I started listening to Weird Yankovic and Dr. Demento. I just loved novelty songs, even when I didn’t get the joke. Remember “Urban Space Man?” I still don’t understand what that song’s about. I love music and I love comedy and I wish I were better at combining the two. It’s hard to make a song funny yet listenable. I’d be very happy as a full-time musician, but I think it’s too late for that. Eddie Murphy came close, but even he needed help from Rick James. If Rick James helps you do anything, you know you’re in trouble.
PLAYBOY: Your songs deal with such topics as troll dolls, fake IDs, the prom, and snowball fights. There’s no nice way of saying this, so I’ll just come right out with it: Do you have a thing for teenage girls?
JIMMY FALLON: I didn’t think so, but now that you mention it. (Laughs.) Actually, a lot of that album was written when I was a teenager. The Troll song was inspired by a really rotten graduation gift. Somebody gave me a troll doll and I wanted to say, “Fuck you, man. What kind of gift is this? This is totally lame.” Then I ended up using the doll in my standup, and the song just evolved out of that. The Bathroom Wall was my first standup act. I’m happy just to have it on record, because I remember writing it in my bedroom when I was seventeen or in my college dorm room or in the laundry room with my friend Frank. I ran into him recently and said, “Can you believe that all the shit we wrote back in college is now on a comedy album? People actually pay for it.”
PLAYBOY: In Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, you played band manager Dennis Hope, who suggested that rock stars should retire before reaching middle age. Could the same be said for aging song parody rockers?
JIMMY FALLON: Yes, definitely. Sometimes they should retire even before that. I don’t see myself aging well. I’m going to be the guy watching reruns of Saturday Night Live alone in his apartment, softly weeping while putting wrinkle-cream around my eyes and self-injecting botex. My living room will be covered with eight thousand copies of “The Best Of Jimmy Fallon” on DVD, because I’ll be the only one who bought it. Most nights I’ll be drunk, in front of my mirror, slathering on cabaret makeup, ready to do another set for my empty apartment. That’s my sad future.
PLAYBOY: For a guy with such a loyal following among the MTV set, you’ve been unexpectedly conservative about your film career. How have you resisted the temptation to make the big bucks doing teen sex comedies?
JIMMY FALLON: I never wanted to do movies for the money or to be famous. I feel very lucky if I’ve offered any film roles at all, but I don’t feel the pressure to say yes. All I ever wanted was to be on Saturday Night Live. After that, everything else is just gravy. I don’t need to do anything for money. Which is not to say I have enough money. Definitely everybody wants more money. I’m sure I could find a way to spend all that crazy Hollywood cash. I was thinking about getting an ambulance or a fire truck as my regular car. It’d be a great way to get through traffic in a hurry. You can run red lights, pretty much make your own rules. I’d love to take my friends on a road trip. Nobody is gonna tell an ambulance to pull over. Are you kidding me? When I put my sirens on, everybody would just get out of my way.
PLAYBOY: Who’s a better kisser, Gwyneth Paltrow or Sir Ian McKellen?
JIMMY FALLON: I ask myself that almost every day, and I gotta say… (Long pause.) I gotta say Gwyneth. She’s a really good kisser. (Another long pause.) I’m not saying that’s the honest answer, but that’s all you’re gonna get from me.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the October, 2004 issue of Playboy magazine.)