As part of our podcast sharing select archival episodes of Ron Bennington’s epic interview series Unmasked, this week we are going back all the way to 2009 to share Unmasked with Jimmy Fallon.
The Unmasked series which began in 2008 with a brilliant hour with Patrice O’Neal has taped nearly 200 episodes since, documenting the careers of the most interesting comedy writers, directors, filmmakers, actors, screenwriters, satirists, political comedians, comedic musicians and of course, stand up comedians in the business. It is a veritable archive of the greatest comedy of our time. Past Unmasked guests have included Joan Rivers, Bob Newhart, Amy Schumer, Dan Aykroyd, Simon Pegg, Tracy Morgan, Paul Feig, Jim Jefferies, Gilbert Gottfried, Bobcat Goldthwait, Louis C.K., David Brenner, Brian Regan, and over 150 more comedy greats.
Back in 2009, Jimmy Fallon joined Ron Bennington at SiriusXM’s New York City headquarters to tape this episode of Unmasked. They sat in the infamous Fishbowl studio with a live studio audience to talk about Jimmy’s career. Fallon is now the undisputed King of Late Night. Not only does he have the flagship show of late night– the Tonight Show– he also has the highest ratings, the most viral videos, and he’s changed the way late night television is done. But back in 2009, the Tonight Show was a distant dream or maybe not even a consideration. Jimmy had just taken over the 12:30am spot on NBC when Conan O’Brien moved up to become the host of the Tonight Show.
Fallon has had a long and fascinating career, and he’s done it all at a pretty young age- he’s only 42 now and already at the top of the game with no signs of slowing down. Before becoming the modern day king of late night television, Fallon was already known by every comedy fan in America as the anchor of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, a great impressionist, and the cast member most likely to bust out laughing in sketches on the show. Even pre-SNL, Fallon had success as a stand up and in sketchwork with the Groundlings in Los Angeles. After a brief post-SNL movie career, Fallon grabbed his first late night gig on NBC’s Late Night.
Sitting down with Bennington in 2009, Fallon remembered growing up fascinated by comedy, Saturday Night Live, and Dr. Demento, and talks about getting his own start in comedy in Los Angeles. He shares details about bombing his first SNL audition, and all about the second audition that led to him joining the cast and the story is a great one. During his audition, every person he met at 30 Rock kept telling him over and over and over again that Lorne doesn’t laugh, and Fallon described how that made him feel right before re-enacting the impression that ended up making Lorne laugh. The SNL stories are great and those alone would make this episode one of the Unmasked all-stars, but our favorite parts of this hour come in the second half of the interview when Fallon shares details about getting started as a late night host. He talks about his reservations about hosting a show, hating being the one in the spotlight, and what changed his mind about taking the gig. You’ll also hear him talk about where the decision came from to bring the Roots on board as their house band, and why the network wasn’t sure it was a good idea. Fallon doesn’t really do interviews anymore, and there aren’t too many podcasts, TV or radio shows that have had Fallon as a guest. Absolutely one of the great hours of the series.
This episode was recorded on September 29, 2009 in the Fishbowl at SiriusXM in New York City.