This article is from Issue 53: Sept/Oct 2011

Jimmy Fallon

The SNL star-turned-Late Night host talks rough beginnings, why he loves his writers andhow he got The Roots to be his band.

Jimmy Fallon is one showbiz figure who truly is living his wildest dreams. As a boy, he grew up wishing he could be on Saturday Night Live—a wish that paid off against incredible odds when in 1998, at the age of just 23, he became one of the youngest cast members in the show’s illustrious history.

After six years on the show, during which he went from small roles to the showcase position as “Weekend Update” anchor alongside Tina Fey, Fallon was afraid of wearing out his welcome and tried his hand at starring in movies. But aft er doing mediocre business with the romantic comedy Fever Pitch opposite Drew Barrymore and bombing alongside Queen Latifah in the unwatchable Taxi, he seemed washed up at barely over 30.

Then, in 2004, SNL producer Lorne Michaels saved the day when he made Fallon the offer of a lifetime. Jay Leno had just announced he would leave The Tonight Show in five years, with Late Night host Conan O’Brien filling his shoes. Michaels secretly offered Fallon the job of replacing O’Brien, if he could just hang in there for five years, and Fallon wound up in the position of receiving $1 million a year by NBC to put all other long-term offers on hold.

The arrangement paid off when, in 2009, Fallon began his tenure as Late Night host. He’s proven many doubters wrong with a quirky show that has quickly built him a loyal fan base and established his niche in late-night shows.

He can sing, rap, dance and do spot-on celebrity impressions, but most of all, Fallon has shown his boyish enthusiasm and genuine affection for people is a magnetic draw for his guests and audiences alike. He is widely regarded as one of the nicest guys in show business, with a happy marriage and an overt joy that made Rolling Stone wonder whether anyone could really be that nice. While he doesn’t discuss it publicly, Fallon has been a lifelong Catholic who loves to visit churches to admire their stained-glass windows and even went back to his Catholic alma mater, the College of Saint Rose, to finish his bachelor’s degree in 2009, after launching his show.

So how did Fallon stumble into such a dream life? Here’s the story behind one of the happiest people in television.

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