Jimmy Fallon Reveals Secrets Behind the Best 'Late Night' Sketches

Jimmy Fallon - PaleyFest 2011
Kevin Parry for PaleyFest

An entire evening was devoted to former Saturday Night Live regular and current late-night host Jimmy Fallon at PaleyFest and it was, to date, the most entertaining session of the festival.

Moderator Chris Hardwick (host of Web Soup), set the tone early when he joked that it was his duty to "steer this ship into Awesometown." It's that type of geekiness (which Fallon wholly embraces) that would run through the night.

It is easy to see why people clamor on to Fallon's fun-loving humor. More than two years after he took the reins from Conan O'Brien, who was preparing for what would turn out to be a brief run as the Tonight Show host, Fallon has carved out an hour of late-night TV that David Letterman or Jay Leno aren't doing: beer pong with Betty White, spoofing vampires with Suckers, singing the "History of Rap" with Justin Timberlake and parodying Lost with Late. Who else can pull that stuff off -- and make them viral hits?

But Fallon, who was a SNL cast member for six seasons (his contract term), almost didn't get his shot at the big time. The first time he auditioned for SNL, he was passed over for 30 Rock's Tracy Morgan. After auditioning for a seocnd time, it was a long wait to hear if he would be joining the cast. "They make you wait six months," Fallon said.

But when he got the gig, it was memorable. "It was a Wonder Years moment. Everything was in sepia tone," he joked.

While Fallon discussed SNL, mentioning offhandedly how much he was sweating, a guy walked out onstage in the middle of one of his stories with a pile of napkins -- and it would turn into one of the night's running gags. "I thought I was getting assassinated," Fallon said to the crowd's amusement. "I feel like a preacher on The 700 Club," as he wiped sweat off.

Late Night With Jimmy Fallon is perhaps one of the only talk shows that truly encourages interaction, be it on Twitter, its blog or through the studio audience, and it all starts with Fallon. "It's so fun to have that now," he said of embracing the digital culture in a late-night show. "Back when Johnny Carson [did his show,] he couldn't have a blog."

And it helps that he understands the power of the web. "It's like we have two shows," Fallon said of the web exclusives, which include 3-minute Flip cam interviews with guests using questions sent in from Twitter. "Things are modular now .. that can go viral," he said, recounting the popularity of "History of Rap."

Fallon, who never seems to get mad, indicated so much during the session. "I never see me getting angry about my job," he said, understanding how lucky he is that he gets to do what he does on a daily basis.

An audience member asked him if we would ever see him taking the lead on SNL as host. "Maybe next season," Fallon coyly answered.

Here are some of the secrets behind Fallon's most successful Late Night sketches, what a normal work day is like and other surprising factoids you never knew:

  • Winning by Charlie Sheen: The sketch, which featured Fallon impersonating Charlie Sheen in a cologne commercial, was created on the day the interview came out with the former Two and a Half Men star coining his "winning" and "tiger blood" catchphrases. So head writer A.D. Miles gathered the writers up and came up with this sketch. "They were doing the hair and makeup," Fallon recalled. "I had the laptop on and watching the Today show interview where he was writing his own comedy." He shared later that no one knew it would go viral so quickly.
  • Jersey Floor: The Jersey Shore spoof was filmed on an abandoned floor (the 12th) in the NBC building at 30 Rockefeller Center. During the sketch, former SNL regular Rachel Dratch stepped onto one of the trap doors on the conference room table and her leg fell through. The fall was so good, they kept it in.
  • 12+ hour days: Fallon's day begins at around 10 a.m., when he is filled in by his assistant on phone calls that need to be made. Then at 11:30 a.m., he goes into a creative meeting where they come up with the bits that are seen on Late Night. Afterwards, he goes into a monologue meeting, then a segment producer meeting. A rehearsal is next, but it's not what you think. A group of tourists come up and because Fallon doesn't have a dress rehearsal, tries out monologue jokes, picking out the 10 best for the show. (O'Brien never did this.) Then, Fallon tapes the show with a studio audience. If something needs to be pre-taped, that's done right after, meaning he's usually there until 9 or 10 p.m., sometimes until midnight.
  • Bothered with Robert Pattinson: Because the budget is miniscule, when Robert Pattinson came on to film the Bothered segment, he and Fallon were outside a window at 30 Rock hanging onto a tree. And the camera guy too. How's that for making it work.
  • 6-Bee with Parks and Rec cast: The Glee spoof was filmed on three days: a Wednesday night, a Thursday night and a Saturday. The Parks and Recreation cast, including a pregnant Amy Poehler, flew out (on their own dime) from Los Angeles to New York so they could film the sketch during the weekend. The Parks crew even pre-recorded the song out in L.A. on a soundstage.
  • First show jitters: Fallon's first show was with famous non-talker Robert De Niro, Timberlake and Van Morrison. He learned during that hour to set the studio to ice-cold temperatures, like Letterman does. He also revealed that the studio seats were the originals from Radio City Music Hall. (And that Lorne Michaels hates spiral staircases. Really.) "I don't know how to do it, but to do it," Fallon said when Hardwick asked about how he prepared to become a chat host.
  • Fallon wasn't a shoo-in to host the Emmys: Remember the opening number at last year's Emmys? It almost never happened. Fallon shared that he had to "convince NBC to let me host." Several senior executives "made a DVD selling me," while Michaels made a phone call. And once everyone (including the Academy) came around, Fallon made it a mission "to embrace television," as can be seen in the "Born to Run" performance. He believed it was the Emmys that was a turning point for Late Night.
  • Golf with Tiger Woods?: In the coming week, one of Fallon's guests is golfer Tiger Woods, and it'll be his first talk show appearance since the scandal. They pitched him playing miniature golf "and we're going to do it," he revealed.
  • Fallon the famous laugher: The comedian became known early on in his SNL career as the one who would break character on-camera, and he shared several instances why. During a specific "Weekend Update" bit with Will Ferrell as Jacob Sildge, a guy with a monotone voice, Fallon would be off-camera laughing. At one point, "Will is trying not to laugh that his glasses will fog up," Fallon said. And in another SNL skit in a hot tub, Fallon said that Ferrell's hand would be "on my leg" and he would "pinch me every time I moved."
  • "History of Rap" with Justin Timberlake: While Timberlake was in France promoting The Social Network, he sent Fallon an email, saying, " 'History of Rap' is on the cover of a French newspaper," Fallon told the audience. "Dude, they know me in France? .. [And Timberlake responded,] 'No!' "
  • Late Night Snack was not Fallon's original ice-cream name: It was called Balls in Your Mouth. Take that, Ben & Jerry's.
  • New week, new tricks: The Late Night crew tries "something brand new" at least three times a week, the host said. And sometimes, those things hit, like "Thank You Notes," a weekly segment on Fridays. (A book will be released in May.)