Jimmy Fallon’s Rules for Success

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Photograph by Joe Pugliese

Jimmy Fallon, host of The Tonight Show, talks about his relatively smooth rise to the top job in comedy, his time at SNL, and how a little diplomacy can go a long way. Here are Fallon’s top tips for success, gleaned from his November 2014 cover story.

1. Start Young
Jimmy’s dad would tape SNL for the kids, skipping over the dirty bits. Jimmy and his sister, Gloria, were known to do “Two Wild and Crazy Guys” at family gatherings.

2. Show Some Respect
In the case of The Tonight Show, this means to make good with Jay Leno. “Jimmy gets it,” Leno says. “Jimmy is a comic. He’s not a comedy writer. He worked little crappy clubs, dragging the guitar around and having drunks throw shit at you. And that’s why he and I have a bit of a bond. It’s almost a father-son kind of thing.”

3. Shut Up and Listen
“Most people in show business think they know everything,” says Leno. “They don’t really listen to the other person. They just wait for the other person to stop talking. ‘Respectful’ is the best word I can use for Jimmy.”

4. Don’t Hold Grudges
It was Fallon who ended the 18-year ban by Johnny Carson of Joan Rivers from NBC. “No one’s banned anymore,” says Fallon. “This is such a silly thing.”

5. Try Try Again
Jimmy’s big break almost came in 1997 at the New York’s Comic Strip when he performed with Lorne Michaels in the audience. “I just bombed,” Fallon says.” I could tell. My manager could tell. This might have been my lowest point ever.” His second break, over a year later, killed.

6. Drink with the Boss
Fallon recalls getting the following advice from producer Marci Klein: “‘After every [SNL] show, go over to Lorne and you thank him for the show.’ And I did. I thanked him after every single show. And by the third show, he probably got tired of me coming up. He was like, ‘Sit down, come have a drink.'”

7. Keep the Competition Close
Fallon hijacked Stephen Colbert’s acceptance speech at the Emmys to tell Colbert’s team, “You guys are the best!” Many of these writers will be heading to CBS when Colbert he takes over from David Letterman next year, where they will attempt to out-funny Fallon, and compete for ratings.

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