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In January, Jimmy Fallon took The Tonight Show to Puerto Rico for a special episode to highlight hurricane relief efforts and celebrate Lin-Manuel Miranda’s opening of Hamilton. Four months later, he still gets choked up remembering his time there and says his visit to Puerto Rico is something he will never forget.
“It was a game-changer for me, it changed my life,” Fallon said through tears at a For Your Consideration panel on Friday night in Los Angeles. “People are so grateful that we went down there, I can’t even talk about it, it’s crazy. They were like, ‘You remember us, you remember that we exist.'”
The late-night host said he was inspired to take the show to the U.S. territory, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria in August, because of close friend Miranda’s bold announcement that he was going to take his massive Broadway show back to his homeland.
“I thought in my head, do you know how hard that is? Not just to bring a Broadway show to Puerto Rico, but to bring a hit Broadway show anywhere else but Broadway,” he said. “The fact that he pulled that off was so inspiring, and he was just so passionate about Puerto Rico and they need help and they’re rebuilding and not enough people are talking about this and I said, ‘We’ve got to do it.'” That meant traveling with a skeleton crew of 30 people, when the show typically uses a 250-person team, to the island to produce the special.
Fallon called the show “one of my proudest moments of anything we’ve ever done on any show I’ve ever been apart of,” and is still encouraging people, even if they can’t donate to relief causes, to “go on vacation there because it’s a win-win — you have a great time and it kicks up their economy … it’s going to take years to rebuild, but it’s basically open for business.”
Fallon admitted that through his life-changing experience in Puerto Rico there was one drawback, which was riding the “Monster” zip line — one of the largest in the world, with speeds reaching 95 miles per hour.
“I’ve got to be honest, I hated that part,” he admitted. “I did it because it was good TV and I did it because I wanted to make the best love letter to Puerto Rico, but I was frightened out of my mind. I hate zip lining — I don’t understand it, I don’t see why people need that much exhilaration, like life isn’t exciting enough.”
Elsewhere in the conversation, which was moderated by “How I Built This” host Guy Raz at the Writers Guild Theater, the two talked about Fallon’s journey from Saturday Night Live to The Tonight Show, the death of the late-night wars and his own talk show approach. The host also spoke about how the iconic program has changed from its 1950s origins in the age of the internet and viral videos.
“I think Steve Allen would be so proud of what we’ve done with The Tonight Show, and Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, and even Jay Leno calls and tells me how proud he is, because they didn’t even have this opportunity that we have to reach not even just America but global — the world is watching,” he said of reaching fans internationally today. “I always think of those ghosts and the guys who came before me going, ‘Yeah, go do it,’ and those writers who spent all of those hours writing a sketch only for it to be seen once.”
Fallon also teased that he may make a special appearance on SNL this week — which his friend Adam Sandler is hosting for the first time since he left the show in 1995 — if he can “make it back to New York on time, maybe I can walk on and do something.”
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