And besides, the former Saturday Night Live regular figures nothing he’ll hear in the coming weeks will be as bad as what his predecessor, Conan O’Brien, went through when he took over for David Letterman in 1993.
“I don’t think anyone could put up with what Conan was given when he first started,” Fallon said on a conference call with reporters last week. “I mean, that poor guy went through the ringer … that was insane. There wasn’t anyone who liked him at first, and he stayed in the ring and stayed up, and you’ve got to respect him for that. So, I mean, as bad as a ribbing as I could get for this, I don’t see it being that bad.”
It’s not that Fallon expects his first show on Monday night — with guests Robert De Niro and Justin Timberlake and a musical performance from Van Morrison — to go entirely smoothly. In fact, he assures us it won’t. But as he’s been doing test shows in recent weeks, he’s been drawing on a piece of advice O’Brien (who will take over The Tonight Show in June) gave him.
“I think the thing he’s repeated most is that you’ve just got to do it,” he says. “Just do it, just keep doing it, because then that’s how you learn how to do it. Just get up there and just start swinging and then you’ll figure it out, which is good advice. And after the first two test shows I can tell you he’s right.
“It’s like you can prepare, you can get the great writers, you can get the great set and the great director, but if you don’t get these interviews down it can get weird. And, you know, it can — even a writer can’t save you in those things. So I think the more I do it the more comfortable I’ll be with talking to people.”
Some highlights of the conversation:
Putting his stamp on the show: “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. And we’re not going to hide the fact that people are on the Internet all day. … We’re going to try to be as interactive as possible with our fans.
“I’m currently on Twitter and Facebook and Flickr and Digg; I’m on all that stuff. And I want to be as interactive as possible. I know we tape at 5:30 [ET], 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 — I can say on the show between 5:30 and 6:30 Eastern Standard Time, you know, please send in [comments]. I still have to figure out how that’s going to work. [The show will also have three bloggers posting during the day with clips and other items from the set and around the Internet.]
“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 kind of keep people awake. Or at least give you one joke to go to bed with.”
On becoming a better interviewer: “Every morning I sit my wife to the right of me, and I ask her what she’s going to do that day. And then … we run a clip and then we go to commercial.
“I realized after the first two test shows that it is tricky, it’s hard. And I think the hardest part for me is you have these pre-interviews, these segment producers that pre-interview your guest. And they give you these bullet points of what funny stories they have.
“And your job as the host is to — you hit on these bullet points to strike up a conversation with them. So, you know, the first couple I’ve done I’ve been a little nervous and I’ve been like, ‘Hey, where you from? Connecticut, oh good. Do you do impressions? Oh great. I heard you went on vacation, and you had a hang gliding incident? Oh good. We’ll be right back.’ And I was like, ‘Wait — that was the worst conversation I’ve ever had in my life.’
“So I think the more calm, the looser I get and the more I make people feel at home and at ease and just have them not worry that they have to score, that I’ll make sure they look good — that’s my job as the host is to make them shine. … I’m just going to try to make my guests shine on my show. And I think between that and my house band it’s going to be a good show.”
About that house band, The Roots: “I got a lot to play with. I really, really, really struck gold and I’m so happy that they — and honored — that they would be my band. … It should be something you want to go do [if you’re in New York] because not even counting me, the band alone, will freak your bean. They’re going to give you a heart attack. It is like going to see a concert for one hour. And they are so good, just so impressive.”
The Jimmy Fallon era on Late Night begins at 12:35 a.m. ET Monday/Tuesday on NBC.