We're replaying a portion of this interview today. Specifically, it's the part where Jimmy Fallon imitates Neil Young. Why? Because we're also playing our Neil Young interview today. If you're like to listen to the full Jimmy Fallon interview, you can do so here.
Every single day of Jimmy Fallon's life is like Thanksgiving. The comedian and host of Late Night tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that he is appreciative of the word moist — for being the "worst word ever." He's thankful, too, for taco shells that have survived their long journey from factory to supermarket to his plate — and then break the moment he fills them. And he's grateful that the name Lloyd starts with two L's. Otherwise, he says, it would just sound like "Loyd."
Fallon collects more than 100 nuggets of gratitude in his book, Thank You Notes. The book is based on a recurring segment on Late Night, when Fallon and his staff round up mundane things that don't get enough attention and give them each the praise they deserve.
"Like do you ever go down the hallway at work and there's someone walking at the same speed as you and right next to you so you're almost like walking together?" Fallon asks. "And you don't know who they are so you're like, 'Should we hold hands? Are you going to slow down? Do I speed up? One of us has to make a decision here.' So those types of things, they're just random but you go, 'Oh, yeah, there should be a joke somewhere about this.'"
Fallon has spent most of his career coming up with jokes and doing impressions. His early impersonations of Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Cosby, Pee-Wee Herman, Adam Sandler and Eddie Murphy helped get him an audition in front of Lorne Michaels and then a job on Saturday Night Live, where he stayed for six years. After leaving the show to appear in several films, he was tapped by NBC to become the host of Late Night, after Conan O'Brien left in 2009 to prepare to take over Jay Leno's slot on The Tonight Show.
When he's not interviewing guests, Fallon spends a lot of time on Late Night impersonating musicians. He does spot-on versions of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, John Mayer and Neil Young. Last November, his Neil Young even famously dueted with the real Bruce Springsteen on a cover of Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair." The resulting duet became one of the most popular segments in Late Night history.
Fallon says that he's had always had a good ear for imitating others. At two, he perfected a James Cagney routine. By high school, he had Jerry Seinfeld down pat.
"I just had that thing, when I was growing up, where I'd just start talking like people," he says. "I would go visit a friend of mine's house and my mom would say 'You sound like Joey Gonzalez' because I would sound like my best friend."
Occasionally, he even runs into a celebrity right after he does his impersonation on Late Night. A recent segment parodied Donald Trump, whose show Celebrity Apprentice was interrupted by the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed.
Just after the taping, Fallon ran into Trump himself. "And I said, 'Hey Mr. Trump, I did an impression of you on the show that's airing tonight.'"
"You do great impressions," Trump replied.
"I don't want you to be upset," said Fallon.
Trump turned to the rest of the people seated at his table and announced, "Jimmy Fallon's doing an impression of me tonight!"
"He knows I never kick anyone when they're down," Fallon says. "I kick them when they're up and they don't mind."
On his 'Whip My Hair' performance
"I think every impressionist has a Neil Young but you don't know what to do with it. It's like having a Jack Nicholson. Everyone has one. What do you do with it? So one of my writers said, 'Why don't you do a Neil Young doing a nice version of Willow Smith's 'Whip My Hair?' ... So we have a guitar and we're sitting in my office, trying to think of how Neil would do it."
On how he practiced for his gig at Late Night
"I would sit to the left of my wife every night at dinner and look at her and try to ask her about her food and stuff but you don't know what it's like until you're in the situation and talking to people. I interviewed strangers. I interviewed my mom. ... She was an awful guest. She kept wanting to cut to a clip. And we have no clip. She's not in a movie. She's my mother."
On reenacting Saturday Night Live as a child
"I was obsessed with the show and this is back when VCRs had just started to come out. ... I remember being obsessed with [the show]. My parents would tape it and they would watch it and cut out any sketches that were risque or dirty or things that we couldn't see. And the ones that were clean, we would be able to watch, me and my sister Gloria."
On Weekend Update
"Colin Quinn was leaving Weekend Update and Lorne Michaels said, 'Jimmy, I think you'd be great at doing Weekend Update.' And I said, 'I don't think so. I don't really read the newspaper all that much. I don't know much about the news. I'm the worst person for Weekend Update. Thank you so much. But no thank you. I'd rather not do it.' He said, 'I think it should be someone from the cast.' So they had auditions. A couple writers were auditioning. One of the writers auditioning was Tina Fey. She was just a writer at the time who wrote a lot of stuff for me and she was super fun and super funny and super hard-working. And sharp — almost too sharp just to be by herself at the time.
"So I saw her audition, and I said, 'Tina's audition was amazing. It was hilarious.' And I talked to Lorne and he said 'I really think you should still do it. Tina's the head writer. No one knows who she is.' And I go, 'What about me and Tina?' And he goes, 'Yeah. I like that. I would see what that's like.' So he set up a test screening of Tina Fey and I in Conan O'Brien's studio over a weekend and we did a test run of what our Weekend Update would be like. And Lorne said, 'I think it would be great because she's the smart one and you're the guy who forgot to do his homework and you need to cheat off her. That's the dynamic.' And we got together and man, it just clicked."
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Copyright NPR. View this article on npr.org.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. We just heard from Neil Young. This is not Neil Young.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
JIMMY FALLON: (Singing) This is a story about how my life got flipped, turned upside down. I'd like to take a minute, just sit right there. I'll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bellaire.
GROSS: That's Jimmy Fallon's impression of Neil Young doing the theme from the TV series, "The Fresh Prince Of Bellaire." It's one of several music parodies Fallon's done on his show "Late Night" that's now collected on his CD, "Blow Your Pants Off." The album also includes newly recorded music comedy.
Jimmy Fallon became known for his impressions when he was a cast member on "Saturday Night Live," but he became even better-known on SNL for co-anchoring "Weekend Update" with Tina Fey. Fallon took over "Late Night" from Conan O'Brien when O'Brien left to prepare to take over "The Tonight Show" in 2009.
Fallon talked about his music impressions when we talked last year. Jimmy Fallon, welcome to FRESH AIR. It's great to have you on the show.
FALLON: I'm a big fan. Thank you so much for having me on.
GROSS: Oh, God, thank you so much. One of the things I love about your show, it gives you an opportunity to do your music impressions. You're amazing when it comes to doing music impressions of people like Neil Young and Bob Dylan. So let's just hear an example of it first. So this is you doing the Willow Smith song, "Whip My Hair." And she's the daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith.
FALLON: Yeah, it's a very good hip-hop song. It goes (singing) I whip my hair back and forth. I whip my hair back - Yeah. It's a big, hit song. So this is me doing Neil Young, doing "Whip My Hair" with Bruce Springsteen.
GROSS: Okay. So, here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHIP MY HAIR")
FALLON: (Singing) I whip my hair back and forth, whip my hair back and forth. Whip my hair back and forth. Whip my hair back and forth, whip it real good. How about that...
GROSS: So that's Jimmy Fallon doing Neil Young. We didn't have time here for the Springsteen part. Maybe we'll get to that a little later. So what's so interesting about how you do this is you're not only doing Neil Young's voice, you're re-writing the song the way Neil Young would sing it because he's such an idiosyncratic singer in terms of the way he re-melodicizes things. So can you talk about, like, doing Neil Young?
FALLON: Yeah. I always kind of had a Neil Young impression - like, everyone does, you know. But he's a great writer.
GROSS: I don't.
FALLON: Oh, come on. You must have sang along with a few songs. I've heard you do "Harvest Moon." But, I mean, so I've always just had - as an impressionist, you kind of - I think every impressionist has a Neil Young, let's just say that. But you never know what to do with it, you know, once you have it. It's like having a Jack Nicholson impression. Everyone's got one. What do you do with it?
So there's a great writer - let's just say a tip of the hat to my writing staff. A writer said: Why don't you do a version of Neil Young, we'll do a nice version of Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair"? And I go: Oh, that's funny. Let's - that'd be cool. I go: Also, Bruce Springsteen's coming on.
Do you think he would do a duet, like, with me, if we wrote a fake duet with me as fake Neil Young and him really as him? He goes: Let's get to it. So we sat down. We had a guitar, he had a guitar, and we just sat around my office, and I'm trying to think of, like, how Neil would do it. And it's a lot of G chord into D chords, and maybe throw in like an A-minor in there.
And it's like: (Singing) Whip my hair back and forth. Just whip it. You know, and they get the harmonica going, the harmonica thing around the neck. And then I go - and Bruce has got to come in. He's got to go, like: (Singing like Bruce Springsteen) You've got to whip your hair - (singing like Neil Young) whip my hair back and forth. (singing like Bruce Springsteen) You've got to whip your hair.
You know, he's got to jump in with that energy. And so we recorded it on our phone, you know, with just a scratch recording of me and him, and we were laughing, and we recorded the thing, and we send it over to Bruce Springsteen's manager. And Bruce Springsteen, his manager gets it, and he goes: Bruce loves it.
He thinks it's hilarious. His kids know "Whip My Hair," and so - and he's seen you do Neil Young on the show, and he's game. He goes: Here's our idea. Do you want Bruce to dress like young Bruce from the '70s?
So I - right out - my mouth is - my jaw's - I'm, like, of course. Yeah. I didn't even think that he would even put on a - I mean, when are you going to get Bruce Springsteen in a wig? I'm telling you right now it'll never happen.
And a fake moustache and beard.
Yeah, and a fake beard. And, I mean, this is from the "Born to Run" era, you know, floppy hat. This is cover of Newsweek and Time magazine Bruce Springsteen, where you go: Whoa. This is the future of rock and roll Bruce Springsteen.
So the fact that he's game for this, I go: OK, we'll get a beard, and we'll get - he goes: And we'll get a floppy hat. I go, no problem. He goes: And Bruce said he's going to bring his sunglasses from the "Born to Run" tour.
GROSS: That's so great.
FALLON: His actual, mirrored sunglasses. I go: OK. He's game. So he comes over. We have great hair-and-makeup girls. Cindy Lou and Courtney) are in there. They put the - he brings his sunglasses out. They tape a beard on him, because he didn't want to put glue on his face. And he goes: You got the floppy hat?
And we put the floppy hat on him. He goes: Whoa, this looks exactly like it. This is great. This is great. I go: Also, we have a wig. Do you want to try the wig on? He goes: No, no, no. What are you trying to do to me? No, I don't want to wear a wig. I don't want to wear it.
I go: Okay, no problem, no big deal. So everyone leaves the room. It's just me and Bruce. We're kind of laughing. And the doors close, and I go: Hey, it's just us. You want to just try the wig on? He goes, what? I go: Just try the wig. I mean, it's got curls on it. It'll be - I think it'll look - it'll be the final touch.
He goes: All right, hurry up. Put the wig on. So I put a wig on Bruce Springsteen, and I'm putting this wig on him, and he's laughing. And then we put the floppy hat and the beard and the glasses, and he looks in the mirror, and he goes: Whoa. And that was it.
GROSS: And then to top it all off, Springsteen throws in a little "Thunder Road" thing toward the end.
GROSS: So why don't we hear the part where Bruce Springsteen comes in and joins you as Neil Young?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHIP MY HAIR")
JIMMY FALLON AND BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Whip my hair back and forth. Whip my hair back and forth. Whip it real good.
FALLON: (Singing) All my ladies, if you feel me.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Whip your hair.
FALLON: (Singing) Do it, do it, whip your hair.
SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Whip your hair.
FALLON: (Singing) Don't matter if it's long or short.
SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Whip your hair.
FALLON: (Singing) Do it, do it. Whip your hair.
SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Whip your hair. Oh, whip my hair. Oh...
GROSS: So that's such a great moment. Were there Neil Young records you just steeped yourself in before doing that? Do you listen to a lot of the performer you're going to do before you do them?
FALLON: Yeah. I think I have one of those things - when I grew up - you know, I've always done impressions. So I think if I listen to a record long enough - I'll listen to "Harvest," and I'll listen to the whole album, and then I could do Neil Young. You know, I can listen to, you know, "Blonde on Blonde," you know, and I'll do Bob Dylan.
You know, I can watch an episode of Jerry Seinfeld, and by the end, I'm just (talks like Jerry Seinfeld) walking around my house, you know, talking like Jerry Seinfeld. What is that? What are you doing? Who is it? What's going - you know, I just have that thing, when I grew up, I'd just start talking like people. You know, I always had that.
I would go visit a friend of mine's house, and I'd come back, and my mom would like: You're talking like Joey Gonzalez. Because I would sound like my best friend. I would just imitate him, you know.
GROSS: My guest is Jimmy Fallon, the host of "Late Night." He has a new comedy album called "Blow Your Pants Off." We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Jimmy Fallon, the host of "Late Night."
FALLON: Thank you, Terry. Terry, did you ever have a different voice when you were starting in radio?
FALLON: What was your other voice? Was it wackier?
GROSS: It wasn't wacky. It was just kind of more like this.
GROSS: When I get nervous, my voice - anyways, this used to be the case. When I'd get nervous, my voice would rise approximately an octave. And I'd speak, like, really super-fast. So, you know, and when I started hosting the show, it was - when I started to host on a college station, I was hosting, like, a feminist radio show, and I - but I was talking kind of like this. So I always thought I sounded kind of like a feminist Minnie Mouse.
FALLON: That is great, because I always loved - I'm obsessed with radio. I love radio so much. And as a comedian, I used to have to do radio, like, morning zoo crew shows at, like, seven in the morning.
GROSS: As a guest, not as a...
FALLON: As a guest.
GROSS: Yeah, OK.
FALLON: Just so I can plug the tickets to - so I can sell a comedy show. You know, I was doing comedy clubs when I was, like, you know, 18 and 19. So I'd have to sell them out, and I'd have to go on radio shows. I'm like: Good morning. We're here with Jimmy Fallon on the air, and...
FALLON: And Jimmy, I mean - you know, let me tell you something. "Saturday Night Live" isn't funny anymore. Our weatherman hates your guts. He's like: Yeah, I don't like you, Jimmy Fallon. You know, and I'd have to get in fights at seven in the morning, you know.
And they'd try to be shocking. They're like: So, anyway, I was getting my prostate checked the other day. It's 7:15 in the a.m. I've got - and I go: You've got to be kidding me? Who wants to hear about this guy's - and they're the nicest people off the air.
They'd be like: Hey, Jimmy, thanks for being here at the Z, Z103. You're the greatest. "Saturday Night Live" couldn't be funnier. Thank you so much. Are you ready to be on the air? I go: I'm ready to be on the air. OK, perfect. Here we go. We're going to be on the air in two seconds.
OK. And we're back. Jimmy Fallon here. He's on "Saturday Night Dead." That's what I call it, because it hasn't been funny in 15 years. You know, and it's like, I go: You just told me over the commercial break that you liked it.
GROSS: Is that what you'd actually say?
FALLON: No. I would actually try to defend the show, stupidly, because I wasn't old enough to figure out that this is all a game. It's just like: OK, he's just trying to rattle me so that he can get a good quote out of me.
GROSS: So I want to end with another clip of you doing an impression, and this is you doing Bob Dylan singing the theme from "Charles in Charge." The old Tony Danza show. It's so funny.
FALLON: That's Scott Baio, actually.
GROSS: Scott Baio?
FALLON: Scott Baio was Charles.
GROSS: Oh, I'm thinking it's the Tony Danza one.
FALLON: "Who's the Boss." You're thinking of "Who's the Boss."
GROSS: Oh, I'm thinking of "Who's the Boss."
GROSS: You're right. I'm thinking of "Who's the Boss."
FALLON: Yeah. Exactly. But poor Tony Danza, by the way. He played Tony in every TV show he was on.
FALLON: Can't you give him a different Italian name?
Why does he always have to be Tony?
So why "Charles in Charge?" Why Dylan in "Charles in Charge"?
FALLON: Well, it's almost the same thing as the Neil thing, is that I can do an impression of Bob Dylan, but we wanted to pick something that was fun and different. And we just thought that there was that one cadence of Charles in charge of our days and our nights, Charles in charge of our wrongs and our rights.
Those are the words to the theme song. And we were just laughing, me and this writer, Mike DiCenzo. And he was going like, Charles in charge of our days and our nights, of our wrongs and our rights. And it's like it kind of...
FALLON: It sounds like a Dylan thing. So we did like a Dylan-esque version of that where you had to play - the harmonica is different than Neil Young's harmonica.
GROSS: Right. Right.
FALLON: Whereas it's higher pitched and more screechy. And then it's like, and then when he gets to that weird - like he stops saying words at some point because he's like... (Singing) I want Charles in charge of me. I want Charles in charge of me. (Speaking) And it's almost like a Jell-O thing or something in his throat at, just certain points of his singing.
And I'm a huge fan, of course, of Bob Dylan. So the fact that we were able to pull this off, it came off pretty cool. I was happy with the end result.
GROSS: Well, Jimmy Fallon, I think you're really incredible. Thank you so much for talking with us.
FALLON: Oh, you're the best. This is so much fun. I feel like I actually have inhaled fresh air.
GROSS: Great. Thank you.
FALLON: This is phenomenal.
GROSS: And here is Jimmy Fallon as Bob Dylan. Thank you again.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHARLES IN CHARGE" THEME)
FALLON: (Singing as Bob Dylan) New boy in the neighborhood. Lives downstairs and it's understood. He's there just to take good care of me, like he's one of the family. Charles in charge of our days and our nights. Charles in charge of our wrongs and our rights.
FALLON: (Singing) Charles in charge of our days and our nights, Charles in charge of our wrongs and our rights. Charles in charge of our days and our nights, Charles in charge of our wrongs and our rights. And I want Charles in charge of me.
GROSS: Jimmy Fallon is the host of NBC's "Late Night." His new comedy album is called "Blow Your Pants Off." To hear my entire interview with Jimmy Fallon which was recorded last year, visit our website, freshair.npr.org, where you can also download podcasts of our show. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.