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Inside Jimmy Fallon's Star-Filled 'Tonight Show' Debut (Video)

It's a new era for the storied franchise, which opens with a slew of surprise A-list guests, an outdoor performance from U2 and some gentle digs: "Welcome to the Tonight Show. I'm Jimmy Fallon and I'll be your host –- for now."

Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon Gold Desk - H 2014
Lloyd Bishop/NBC

After a 42-year absence from New York, one aborted passing of the baton and weeks of relentless promotion, an emotional Jimmy Fallon welcomed television viewers to the next iteration of the storied Tonight Show franchise on Monday night.

Wearing a light grey suit, white shirt and skinny navy tie, Fallon told his audience at 30 Rock's newly redesigned Studio 6-B (the original Tonight Show studio before Johnny Carson took the show to Burbank in 1972) that his goal is to "put a smile on your face." But he also assured that, contrary to his good-boy image, he will "make fun of everybody. Anyone I can make fun, of I will."

With that, he acknowledged the aforementioned onetime elephant in the room: "Welcome to The Tonight Show. I'm Jimmy Fallon and I'll be your host -- for now." He continued: "Of course I wouldn't be here tonight if it weren't for the previous Tonight Show hosts, so I want to say thank you to Steve Allen, Jack Parr, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno."

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It was a classic Fallon poke -- good-natured, playful, never mean. And Fallon, who loosened up as the show wore on, felt compelled to introduce himself to the television audience that has been watching Leno for the past 22 years (except for a short hiatus from June 2009 to January 2010). "I honestly don't know how I got here," said the comedian, who got his start on Saturday Night Live in 1998. "I grew up in upstate New York in a town called Saugerties. I had a great childhood. I'm 39 years old. I live in New York City with my beautiful wife, Nancy, and my daughter, Winnie, who is six months old. I love her so much. I'm a proud, proud dad," he gushed.

Fallon's parents, James and Gloria Fallon, were in the studio audience, which also included NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke and Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, who had a considerably better seat than Gloria and James. "I hope you're proud of me," Fallon said to his parents.

The second half of his opening monologue included standard topical jokes about Bob Costas' conjunctivitis, Al Roker and Matt Lauer's double luge stunt from Sochi (which included video), and a riff about the Russian hockey team being subject to a different kind of "shootout" after their loss Saturday to the Americans.

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Fallon ran through an Olympic-themed version of his "Superlatives" segment, a regular feature on his Late Night program. A "History of Hip-Hop" video featured Fallon and guest Will Smith both wearing '80s-era denim overalls with one strap down while demonstrating everything from the Cabbage Patch and the Running Man to the Making it Rain and the Picking up the Money ('cause that's all you had).

There was a mid-show performance by U2 at the Top of the Rock, the observation deck 70 stories above Manhattan that boasts gorgeous panoramic views of the city. The band performed their new single "Invisible" against the late-evening backdrop. Apparently, the sunset was ordered up by executive producer and late-night impresario Lorne Michaels -- sort of. It was Michaels' idea to have the band perform in the middle of the show (rather than at the end, which is standard) in order to take advantage of a brilliant sunset that left a fiery orange streak across Manhattan's iconic skyline, with the spire of the Empire State Building illuminated in red, white and blue. U2 returned to close the show with an impromptu acoustic rendition -- on the Tonight Show sofa -- of "Ordinary Love," their Oscar-nominated single from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

 

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But the highlight of the show for late-night fans will likely be an early segment that stands among the most impressive booking coups in television. As Fallon primed the audience for Smith and U2 ("Their musical performance is going to blow your pants off," he promised), he added, seemingly as an aside, "I can't believe this is happening. I want to say thanks to all the fans for all of their support. And to my buddy who said that I'd never be the host of The Tonight Show -- and you know who you are -- you owe me a hundred bucks."

With that, Robert DeNiro walked out from backstage and without a word slapped a $100 bill on Fallon's desk. He was followed by Tina Fey, Joe Namath, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani (who thanked Fallon for "bringing it back to New York"), Mariah Carey (who pulled $100 from deep within cleavage encased in a black evening gown), Joan Rivers, Kim Kardashian, Seth Rogen, Mike Tyson, Lady Gaga (wearing a black fishnet body stocking and little else), Lindsay Lohan, Tracy Morgan, Sarah Jessica Parker (who was carrying the $100 in her right stiletto) and finally, Stephen Colbert. The Colbert Report host dumped a bucket of pennies on Fallon. He then pulled out his iPhone to snap a selfie of the two of them before declaring: "Welcome to 11:30, bitch!"