Jimmy Fallon hits town to promote new gig on 'Tonight'


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Jimmy Fallon had a case of the giggles.

That's no surprise to anyone familiar with his career, from "Saturday Night Live" to a brief gig in feature films to his current "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon."

When Mr. Fallon, 39, delves into something he deems funny, he's just going to laugh. Which he did Friday morning, when visiting the WPXI-TV studio in Summer Hill to promote "The Tonight Show" regime change on Feb. 17.

He was cheerful enough, despite the promo overload. In a network version of the "Hunger Games" victory tour, Mr. Fallon was on hand to chat up the locals. He was also there to shoot teasers with WPXI's David Johnson and Lisa Sylvester -- as well as on-air talent from NBC affiliates in Buffalo and Harrisburg -- that will begin airing in December.

Afterward, there was a mixer with execs and sales personnel from the stations.

It's an exciting time for Mr. Fallon, who not only has a new show, but also a new baby: He and wife Nancy Juvonen are navigating the waters of parenthood with daughter Winnie, 4 months old. ("It's the best thing that ever happened to me and my wife.")

Although he has discussed the "Tonight Show" for months, Mr. Fallon appeared genuinely enthusiastic to be talking about it once again. Citing original "Tonight" host Steve Allen, he said he's determined to keep things sunny or, at least, wacky.

"He was the guy in the bowl with the banana split, where he's the banana and people are dumping chocolate syrup on him," Mr. Fallon said, clapping his hands. "I'm kind of mashing 'The Tonight Show' [and] taking the best parts of everyone's 'Tonight' and having a great monologue, great guest, beautiful lights, sound."

Decades after Johnny Carson took the show to Los Angeles, it will be returning to Rockefeller Center with Mr. Fallon.

He often has said, "If you like Jay Leno's 'Tonight Show,' you're going to like my 'Tonight Show.' " But he admits he'll have to make it more accessible to the 11:30 p.m. crowd: "The Midwest will get my jokes, my monologue will be longer."

He plans to "lose some things that are too weird" but certainly not the wildly popular digital films that parody everything from "Game of Thrones" to "Breaking Bad."

"There's a place for everything, and I'm really looking forward to it."

He has succeeded against improbable odds. After success as a writer and performer on "SNL" and a brief stab at movie stardom, he was handed "Late Night" when Conan O'Brien become "Tonight" host in 2009.

"[They said,] 'Here's another new face; nobody's going to watch.' "

But Mr. Fallon's goofy mix of sketch comedy, tailor-made for the digital age, and his unusual spin on that talk show standard, the celebrity interview, has drawn more viewers in his 12:35 p.m. time slot than competitors "Nightline" and "The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson." Variety recently reported that Mr. Fallon's show is at an all-time high, with almost 2 million combined viewers, up 19 percent compared with this time last year.

Thursday evening, "Late Night" taped the Friday night show, which included a bit about the general desperation of those who try to pick up musical instruments as adults.

"We were lip-syncing the saxophone from 'Old Time Rock 'n' Roll,' and so I'm lip-syncing," he began, miming fingers flying over invisible keys and leaning far over a green room sofa table laden with breakfast goods and fruit.

At this point, Mr. Fallon's speech began to waver, stunted by an onset of the giggles. Were he a brain surgeon or even the IBM computer repairman he envisioned he'd be back in his childhood days in upstate New York, this might be a problem.

But breaking up will be just fine on this "Tonight Show," as long as everyone else is laughing.

"Deep down, it's really all about pleasing people. You just want to make as many people like you as you possibly can."


Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1478 or@MariaSciulloPG.

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