Growing up as the daughter and granddaughter of Hollywood royalty, Anjelica Huston had great expectations placed upon her by the arts world from the beginning of her life. After all, her father was legendary director John Huston, her grandfather was revered film star Walter Huston and her mother was famed ballerina Enrica Soma.
Anjelica acted in some of her father’s films as a child before becoming one of the most sought-after models in the world. But when she was in a severe car accident at age 29, she found the drive it took to finally succeed on her own terms in Hollywood — fueled by the memory of director Tony Richardson telling her that she would never do anything with her life.
Seething with inner frustration, Huston thought in reply, “Watch me.” And using that fiery spirit, Huston has gone on to become one of the most exotic film actresses of the past 30 years before pivoting to start a new career as the writer of two critically acclaimed memoirs, including “Watch Me,” for which she will appear next Thursday, Nov. 20, in the prestigious LiveTalksLA series of celebrity discussions held at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.
“For me, the crash was very much an epiphany,” Huston says. “I really got away with my life on that one. I was badly beat up from the crash but I had this renewed sense of purpose. It was the first time I thought I need to take things, not wait to get what I wanted. I had to effect change. I turned it around at that point and found people who helped me, including my great acting teacher Peggy Feury. She changed my professional life tremendously.”
Indeed, that shift into being a serious actress and making that decision as a grown adult was a key step in breaking free from the shadow of her father’s towering career. It was her own decision to make, rooted in a childhood in which she was encouraged to think freely for herself.
“My father didn’t expect me to be a child actress, but to read and be well informed, and those were his emphases rather than imparting that I should be successful,” says Huston. “He was more concerned that I developed my intellect and made good choices.”
While she has made plenty of good choices in her film career, with iconic turns as Morticia Addams in “The Addams Family” films and as Etheline Tenenbaum in “The Royal Tenenbaums,” Huston has made some famous choices in her private life as well. She spent four years from age 17 to 21 as the live-in girlfriend of fashion photographer Bob Richardson before counting king of the Hollywood bad boys Jack Nicholson as a longtime paramour and ultimately marrying acclaimed sculptor Robert Gordon in 1992 and staying with him until his death in 2008.
“How is it to be with Jack? Great, glorious — and tough,” Huston recalls. “It was many things but never boring. And with Bob [Graham], I first saw his work in the 1984 Olympics here in Los Angeles, and I wanted to get to know him. He was a consummate artist, a wonderful man, and a very deep person.
“You get used to a certain level of brilliance, and my father was definitely brilliant,” Huston continues. “It’s inevitable you seek that same brilliance in other people. I didn’t but I’ve had some extremely interesting relationships with fascinating people, both men and women. I’ve always played across the board and I’m proud to have friends who are preteenagers all the way to folks in their 90s.”
Applying the life lessons she gleans from across the age spectrum, Huston has always had a thirst for knowledge and new experiences. In fact, the reason she was able to produce two memoirs within two years is that her first shot at a memoir ran 900 pages and her publisher proposed dividing it in two.
The result is that “Watch Me” picks up with her return to Los Angeles after the richly detailed 1960s upbringing in Ireland and England that she described in “A Story Lately Told.” Displaying a rich command of her writing abilities, Huston grabs readers with her poetically detailed remembrances from page one and carries them through her encounters with the entertainment elite over the next four decades.
Huston credits her way with words and storytelling skills to her family’s aversion to television during her childhood years. Deep conversation was the norm in her household because Ireland didn’t even have television until she was 12, and Ireland’s tradition of oral history also helped hone her abilities. That love of great writing also carries over into how she picks her roles.
“Initially, I come away with a feeling from a script,” says Huston. “Whatever it is about feeling, sort of like channeling, will start to influence your perception of a character. How she is, how she walks, what she wears. I build a character from the floor up.”
Huston’s characters often have a stately surface undermined by darker emotions under the surface, and she took a moment to explain that part of her process.
“I like concurrent emotions, confliction, visually in a movie,” says Huston, who counts her Oscar-nominated role in the 1990 thriller “The Grifters” as her favorite. “I like layering. So much of the time people are either black or white, but I like filling in the black in the white and white in the black. Rodmila in ‘Ever After’ is a great part because you find out why she’s unhappy and cruel — but then we see that the world is that way to her. I like to find the truth in things — which is neither black nor white.”
Having starred in dozens of films, written two memoirs and directed three films of her own — the best advice she learned from her father was “cast well” — at age 65 Huston has plenty of zest left. Looking beyond next week’s appearance at the Alex, she’s excited to star opposite Martin Sheen in the classic two-person play “Love Letters.”
“Every time I go to work, I think I can’t do it, and when I make it through, I rejoice,” says Huston. “The greatest challenge is always the next thing I’m doing.”
Anjelica Huston will discuss her life, career and memoir “Watch Me” at 8 p.m. next Thursday, Nov. 20, at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Admission is $27 for general admission, $50 for reserved seats and a copy of “Watch Me,” or $95 for premium seats, a copy of “Watch Me” and a VIP reception from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Call (818) 243-ALEX or visit livetalksla.com.
Wayne Brady is always on the run these days. The multiple Emmy-winning entertainer has been pulling double duty for weeks, hosting the CBS hit daytime game show “Let’s Make a Deal” in the morning before racing to the Pasadena Playhouse for rehearsals of the new musical revival of “Kiss Me Kate,” which opens Sunday.
But after a two-decade career in which he has excelled at improv on ABC’s “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” the classic musical “Chicago” on Broadway, his own talk show and countless sitcom guest roles, Brady is handling the pressure with ease. In fact, he’s thankful for every challenge that comes his way.
“Things are only as hectic as you make them,” says Brady. “I’m not breaking rocks, working chain gangs or working in McDonald’s. I tape shows, get in my car and go to rehearsal. Plus I’m a producer with other projects happening, and I’m a dad who’s involved in my daughter’s life. Be cool, calm and collected and you can make it work. I live a very blessed existence.”
While the Orlando, Fla.-raised Brady is a long-time veteran of musical theater, he has never performed “Kiss Me Kate” before. He said it was the combination of the show’s status as an American staple and the ability to work with Playhouse director Sheldon Epps that enticed him to jump at the opportunity.
“Sheldon can pull things out of you that maybe you didn’t know were laying around, and it’s great to be able to access certain places in yourself as an actor,” says Brady. “Sheldon is a director I love because not only is he passionate about any project he does, there’s a reason behind every decision, and he’s collaborative. He can rule with a velvet fist, which is great because nobody wants to work with a pushover, and I respect the hell out of him.”
Brady recalls performing in “Oklahoma!” in high school, which set the stage for his frequent musical gigs throughout his career. Aside from “Chicago,” he has also taken the stage in “A Chorus Line,” “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Jesus Christ Superstar,” in which he played Judas.
He defends the current state of American musicals, saying that recent years have helped the theatrical world develop shows that are more truly reflective of American culture than ever before. He notes the hard rock edge of “American Idiot,” as well as other shows’ hip-hop and Latin influences, as signs that theater is truly embracing all aspects of the audience.
At the same time, he makes it clear that revivals will always have a strong share of the musical market.
“There are always revivals when there’s a demand for something,” explains Brady. “You can sit down all day and say ‘I’m going to create a classic.’ But you don’t know you’ve created a classic until the people and time say it’s a classic. People want that connectivity with the things that they love. That’s why we’re nostalgic for old movies, TV Land and classic MTV.”
Much of Brady’s career success has come from his experiences with improv comedy, a skill he recalls learning early in adulthood when an actress he worked with at Walt Disney World suggested he take classes she was teaching with her husband. He had an instant knack for it and scored a plum role in the cast of the British version of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” during its final season on the BBC before his popularity there led to him joining the likes of Drew Carey in ABC’s American version.
The combination of his work in classic musicals, the family-friendly comedy of “Line” and his own innocent daytime talk show (“The Wayne Brady Show,” which won four Emmys in its two seasons on the air a decade ago) have combined to give Brady a squeaky-clean image. But as the star of his own Las Vega comedy show called “Wayne Brady Making %@it Up,” he also feels a need to make it clear he has a naughty side.
“There’s almost a reverse stigma to being clean,” says Brady. “I’m not a Boy Scout or a Ken doll, because I have a penis down there. I’m a grown man and I use the language I like. But I use common sense. A lot of what I’ve done on network TV is venue specific.
“A daytime talk show has to be clean, and ‘Whose Line’ cleaner than not,” Brady continues. “But after a few years, because people label folks and because I’m black, then I’m clean to those who stupidly think black comedy needs to involve grabbing your crotch. I never set out to be a clean comedian. I’m just a person with a modicum of class. When you come to see me in Vegas, you may be surprised because I say what I want to say.”
Brady famously torched his clean image on Comedy Central’s “Chappelle’s Show” a decade ago, via a skit in which he picks up the show’s host Dave Chappelle for a night on the town and winds up terrifying him with a night filled with hookers, drugs, shootings and even a cop killing.
The short film was so well-regarded it is enshrined in TV’s top museum, the Paley Center, as one of the 100 funniest moments in TV history.
“That was so long ago, but it’s referenced every day,” says Brady. “This is a business where you never want to be tied to just one thing. That film came out of a conversation with Dave after [famously controversial black comedian] Paul Mooney said about me, ‘You make Bryant Gumbel look like Malcolm X.’
“I did the show because that joke was so offensive because in one fell swoop one black man says about another black man, that Bryant Gumbel can’t be black because he’s so well spoken, and then says I’m even less black,” continues Brady. “Who’s the arbiter of what’s black? Race shouldn’t matter, but sadly in the real world it does. I try to proceed as though the world is color blind, but sometimes you’ve got to pop your head up and say something.”
Wayne Brady stars in “Kiss Me Kate,” now through Oct. 12 at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. EL Molino Ave., Pasadena. Tickets are $57 to $125. Call (626) 356-7529 or visit pasadenaplayhouse.org.
There are lots of things about this country that annoy comedian Jimmy Dore. One is how fat cats always get richer and pay fewer taxes while leaving regular folks holding the bag. Another is how the government pleads poverty when the time comes to repair America’s infrastructure, yet can bail out Wall Street bankers to the tune of $2 billion a week.
But most of Dore’s contempt is for the media. While he is best known as a nationally headlining club comedian with two acclaimed Comedy Central specials, Dore has earned the right to criticize the media because now he is part of it.
As the host of “The Jimmy Dore Show” each week on KPFK-FM and Pacifica radio stations nationwide, and as a member of the highly popular Web-based political commentary series “The Young Turks,” Dore has shown that he has a freewheeling political instinct that owes loyalty to nothing but the truth. He’s now collected his views into a bitingly funny book called “Your Country Is Just Not That Into You,” which the Pasadena resident will discuss and sign at 7 p.m. next Thursday at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena.
“The media used to be the watchdogs, but they’ve been bought by the people they’re supposed to be investigating,” says Dore. “NBC didn’t give you the facts about Iraq because they’re owned by defense contractors. You’ll never get the truth, just false equivalency, saying there are two sides to every story like global warming. I say there are not two sides to the truth. Don’t give us talking points. Give us the truth.”
Dore grew up as the youngest of 12 children in Chicago and went through 12 years of Catholic school. This resulted in him abandoning the faith as an adult, although he now has decided that it is more honest to be an agnostic than to be an atheist, “because no one should absolutely presume to know either way.”
“The book makes fun of religion and I do like to get high and watch faith healers like [televangelist] Benny Hinn,” laughs Dore. “He heals people left and right, yet he has the most wicked comb-over in television. If you could heal people, wouldn’t you take five minutes to heal and straighten out your hair? You never hear about a healer going to a hospital to heal people. So fucking lazy!”
The funnyman doesn’t believe that either party is willing to help people, because, in his opinion, “Democrats have become Republicans.” A fervent and proud progressive, Dore has loudly expressed disappointment that President Obama has not gone far enough to the left to solve the nation’s problems, pointing out that the Republicans have given up criticizing Obama’s banking and war plans because he feels they are essentially the same as their own.
“I will say I voted for Nader in 2000 instead of Al Gore,” says Dore. “The Democrats are proving Al Gore right, that there is not enough difference between the two parties. An example is that people get mad with immigrants and teachers when the economy goes south. If Wall Street crashes, we blame teachers. These fat-cat teachers are sneaking sacks of money into their Tercels. Worst of all, Obama wants to tie teacher pay to their performance, even though we put our hopped-up kids on the bus at 6 in the morning and basically wish them good luck.”
And yet, despite all his frustrations and his belief that the country’s fundamental economics have not improved since the financial meltdown of 2008, Dore holds out some hope for America. He knows that the corporations and the banks are still making bad financial decisions and “treating our savings accounts like an Indian casino,” and he believes that the recently completed World Cup soccer matches were just an extended excuse to distract people worldwide from very serious problems.
“But we do have the Constitution, which is a great thing,” says Dore. “We have a history of standing up for freedom, liberty and an even playing field. That’s what I like about America: there’s a hope of equality, rewarding hard work and judging by their character and not the color of skin. [NSA whistleblower] Edward Snowden was willing to give up life and liberty to help save our country, and that leaves us hope. I say thanks to him.”
Jimmy Dore discusses and signs his book “Your Country is Just Not That Into You” at 7 p.m. next Thursday, Aug. 28, at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Admission is free. Call (626) 449-5320 or visit vromans.com
Growing up in San Diego as the son of Korean immigrants, Bobby Lee was expected to take over the family business. His parents owned a five-store chain of clothing stores known as Fashion Gal, and while he appreciated the comfortable life their hard work afforded, he felt certain that working for them would eventually kill him.
“The stores catered to fat ethnic women, like an ethnic Lane Bryant,” he recalls, a mix of anguish and laughter still mingled in his voice 20 years later. “Just being trapped inside all day and having to deal with that. Standup comedy saved my life.”
Indeed, Lee found salvation in developing his own fearlessly energetic and brash form of comedy at the Comedy Store in La Jolla. And after two decades filled with successes including “Tonight Show” appearances and a long-running stint on FOX’s late and lamented “MAD TV,” the 41-year-old jokester will be bringing his high-energy hilarity to Pasadena’s Ice House Comedy Club this weekend.
His appearance comes at a prime moment in the club’s history. Famous for being the nation’s oldest continuously running comedy club and heralded as the location where more comedy CDs have been recorded than any other location on earth, the Ice House has also been named one of the five best comedy clubs in the nation (the only California club on the list) by the new book “The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny.”
With four shows coming up on Friday and Saturday, Lee will be enjoying the intimate energy the club offers between its compact crowds and performers. While he’s also a frequent performer at the Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, Lee holds a special place in his heart for Pasadena’s comedy jewel.
“The Ice House is a historic comedy club, much like the Comedy Store,” says Lee. “The owner is an amazing man and I’m privileged to play there.” n
Bobby Lee will perform at 8:30 and 10:30 Friday and 8 and 10 p.m. Saturday at the Ice House, 24 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. Tickets are $24 for general admission and $31 for VIP seating. Call (626) 577-1894 or visit icehousecomedy.com.
op 40 hits, and as an actor who hit heartthrob status playing Dr. Noah Drake on “General Hospital,” Rick Springfield was one of the hottest stars of the 1980s. Yet, even as he was riding waves of success with his dual career, Springfield was secretly engaged in a life-threatening battle with depression.
Springfield finally came clean with that struggle in 2011, when he wrote his memoir “Late, Late at Night,” a starkly honest take on his experiences that was so harrowing Rolling Stone magazine named it one of the 25 greatest books ever written about rock and roll. Finally unburdened of his secret and emboldened by the reception to his prose, Springfield went on to spend the past two years working on a novel, “Magnificent Vibration,” which he will discuss and sign at Vroman’s Bookstore on Wednesday.
Springfield’s debut novel follows the surreal misadventures of a guy named Bobby, who steals a mysterious self-help book from a bookstore and winds up calling the 800-number scrawled inside the front cover. It turns out he has dialed a direct line to God, launching Bobby on a quest — alongside a smart and sexy gal named Alice — to find spiritual and carnal salvation while possibly saving the planet.
That sense of whimsical fantasy stems from Springfield’s childhood roots, in which the Australia native dreamed of becoming a fiction writer before discovering rock and roll. And as such, he is thrilled to be finally working on this side of his creative spirit.
“As a kid I thought I’d be writing fiction, but then music took over my life,” says Springfield. “Suddenly two years ago at Christmas I started finding time to write and it just took care of itself. The original idea came from an idea I had of a guy who had conversations with God. That’s always been a really strong driver in my mind. It’s all something we love to do and started writing from that perspective. It wasn’t planned in any way. I just followed a path.”
That path became filled with unique characters and situations because Springfield believes that the key to his writing — fiction and nonfiction — is getting plenty of sleep and finding inspiration in the dreams that emerge.
He has also found strength in coming to terms with his depression, which he had hidden since he was a teenager. He chose to write “Late” the hard way, forcing himself to sit down and do the actual work rather than reciting high points of his life to ghost writers, as many celebrities do, because he hoped that dealing with harsh truths would help
him move past his demons.
Alcohol is one of those demons, as evidenced by Springfield’s 2011 arrest for DUI while driving recklessly on Pacific Coast Highway. According to published reports, he threatened to kill the arresting deputy and his family if his car was towed. He was arrested again in 2013 for failing to appear for a court date related to his probation on those charges.
Despite the fact it might seem that writing lyrics is vastly different than writing books, Springfield reveals that there are many similarities.
“You’re just trying to find a slightly unique way of saying familiar emotions,” says Springfield. “We all feel the same things, we all have the same issues no matter where we are in our lives. The fact that someone’s a musician, or someone works at a bank, doesn’t change the human condition. One of my favorite writers when I was a young musician was Jackson Browne, because I thought it was amazing how he could write a single line that would sum up a whole emotion.”
Of course, Springfield is no stranger to writing about emotions in his own songs. His most famous song, “Jessie’s Girl,” seethes with barely controlled rage as it depicts the thoughts of a man who is dangerously jealous of a friend because of his girlfriend. But while he laughs when the song is described as “one of the nastiest kiss-offs in rock history,” Springfield points out a couple of surprising facts about the song.
“First off, the guy’s real name was Gary, but it didn’t have the right ring to it as ‘Gary’s Girl,’ so I kept trying dozens of names until we finally settled on Jessie,” Springfield calls. “And second, the real-life girl never knew I wrote it about her. I lost touch with them before it was even released, and Oprah herself couldn’t track her down years later when she tried to find her for a special episode about the women who inspired rock songs.”
Springfield has a truly busy summer to look forward to, with three tours to juggle: the book tour, a full-band tour opening for Pat Benatar, and a solo acoustic tour called “Stripped Down,” which will feature him telling the stories behind his greatest songs. He has managed to stay popular with new generations due to the inclusion of “Jessie’s Girl “ in the best scene of the modern classic movie “Boogie Nights,” and the fact that Foo Fighters leader Dave Grohl called on him to write a song with the Foos last year for the documentary “Sound City” gave him fresh street cred.
These are heady times for the ageless rocker. But he isn’t above finding time to reflect on all that he’s done and the changes he continues to go through nearly 40 years into his career.
“As you get older, you know your views change, and when I wrote ‘Jessie’s Girl’ it was all about sex and getting laid,” says Springfield. “I take a wider view getting older, as everyone does. I still write about sex, thankfully, but there are other things as well. The book ‘Vibration’ is an outgrowth of my thoughts on where the world is, and your writing reflects your view of the world.”
Rick Springfield discusses and signs “Magnificent Vibration” at 1 p.m. Saturday at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Call (626) 449-5320 or visit vromans.com.
Davy Rothbart spent part of the 1990s hustling Chicago Bulls basketball tickets on the streets of the Windy City at the height of the Michael Jordan era.
Nearly 20 years later, that passion for basketball has paid off for Rothbart, who today is an author and a star on National Public Radio, but only in an entirely different way than one might think.
Since his days as a ticket scalper, the multitalented Rothbart has enjoyed a thriving career with countless appearances on NPR’s popular show “This American Life,” the publication of several short-story and essay collections, and the explosive growth of his annually published Found magazines. His latest venture is co-directing the new feature-length documentary “Medora,” about a small town with a losing high school basketball team that’s been devastated by the Great Recession.
Rothbart will be presenting “Medora,” and hosting a question and answer session afterward, tonight at the Crawford Family Forum in Pasadena.
The film follows a year in the life of the small Indiana town of Medora, which has been rocked so hard by harsh economic times that it lost 1,500 of its 2,000 residents since its local factory shut down. Its high school basketball team hasn’t won a game in years, but the film shows the amazing effort that the team puts forth to finally stop losing and boost the town’s morale.
“I read an article in The New York Times by the great writer John Branch, a short piece that still showed their fighting spirit,” recalls Rothbart. “Many documentaries are about teams trying to win championships, but this was just about the desire to win even once. My co-director Andrew Cohn and I went down from our homes in Ann Arbor, Mich., and we checked out the town and met the coach and players.
“We fell in love with the town and wanted to tell about small town America and how rural communities are being battered,” Rothbart continues. “We came back a year later with friends and cameras and embedded ourselves for a year in a nearby town. It’s a really raw and personal documentary about four kids trying to find their place in the world and dealing with challenges at home and school.”
Rothbart believes that a common thread weaves its way throughout all of his work: an innate curiosity about ordinary people and their private lives.
That curiosity inspired him to hold onto countless notes that he’d find during his nationwide travels, scraps of paper with both hilarious and despondent tones that seemed to reveal everything about the psyches of strangers. Eventually he decided his collection was so fascinating that he compiled them into a magazine, Found.
“You feel you’re in that person’s mind and heart, and they’re revealing themselves in a way they never expected,” explains Rothbart. “The note that sparked it was on my windshield but addressed to some guy named Mario, saying ‘Mario, I hate you! You said you had to work and your car is here at her place! I hate you I hate you! Page me later!’ It’s full of hope and love and desperation all at once.”
At first, Rothbart published his own personal collection of notes that he thought would be popular solely among his friends as a zine, or a blog with an extremely limited audience. He intended to print just 50 copies, give them away at a party and see how well they caught on with strangers there.
“But the Kinko’s guy printing them said ‘This is awesome. Make 800,’ and at a party a week later we sold 100 copies for five bucks each, leaving us 700 copies lying in boxes in my apartment,” Rothbart recalls. “I left on a trip for a couple weeks, came back and they were gone. He said they sold out, because so many people spread the word and were coming to buy two, three or four copies, and cops were coming by thinking we were selling drugs. Now it’s an annual edition with thousands of copies, and each day, 25 to 30 people send us weird notes they’ve found.”
With a play based on his “Found” experiences heading to the New York City stage in the next year, and numerous other documentary and fiction-film projects in the works, Rothbart has his hands full. But he’s never too busy to reach out and help people whose lives have touched him.
“I was nervous how the people in the movie would react because it was so intimate and I wondered if they were too exposed?” Rothbart says of “Medora.”
“We showed them the film for the first time in the town library. They were laughing, and there were some tears, but the overall reaction was understated. Then one giant farm kid named Robby jumped up and said ‘I loved it!’ and the rest followed suit. They said it was honest, true and fair and really celebrates them as people with very little, living in desperate circumstances, who find a way to move on. The Washington Post called it one of the top movies of 2013, which was pretty wonderful company next to ‘12 Years a Slave.’”
Davy Rothbart screens “Medora” and discusses it at length afterwards in an evening program starting at 7 p.m. tonight at the Crawford Family Forum, 474 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena. Admission is free. RSVP at kpcc.org.
Growing up in the town of Saugerties, NY, Jimmy Fallon never dreamed of being a TV talk show host. Instead, he focused with laser-like precision on breaking into the cast of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” by locking himself in his room during each new episode. He would also tape those shows for later additional viewings, where he would study the comedic angles, memorize lines and practice impressions of both the show’s fictional characters and real-world celebrities.
That effort would pay off at age 24, when he was signed by the show’s legendary producer, Lorne Michaels, to be a cast member. It’s been a rocket ride ever since, with Fallon gaining stardom during his six years on “SNL” before taking the reins of NBC’s “Late Night” franchise from Conan O’Brien for five successful seasons in which he revitalized the tired talk-show format with viral videos and the most innovative house band in television, The Roots.
On Feb. 17, Fallon, now 39, will take over the throne from Jay Leno and become just the sixth host — after Steve Allen, Jack Paar, the immortal Johnny Carson, Leno and O’Brien — in the 60-year-run of the hallowed show that invented late-night talk. Caught in the middle of his frantic transition period, in which he is still hosting “Late Night” while overseeing every aspect of his new show, Fallon came to Pasadena’s Langham Huntington Pasadena hotel Sunday along with his “Late Night” replacement Seth Meyers to discuss the seismic shift his life is experiencing with the Television Critics Association.
“As early as I can remember I was watching Carson, so there was familiarity with him through my parents having him on,” recalls Fallon, whose first “Tonight” guests will be Will Smith and U2. “I thought he came with the TV, and you’d turn him on at night time. I’d beg my parents to let me watch that, because I knew I was getting away with something.
“But it wasn’t at all my dream job, because I didn’t even know it was a job,” Fallon continues. “I thought if I worked at IBM like my dad and had a house and family like him that was a dream. So if kids today ask to stay up and watch my show, I’m proud of that and hope to deliver.”
Despite his relative youth, Fallon has a deep sense of history about “Tonight” and has taken some bold steps to not only bring innovation to the institution, but also maintain a strong sense of its history. Most notably, he insisted on bringing the show back to New York City from Burbank, where Carson moved the show in 1972.
Fallon’s version of “Tonight” will be set in the show’s original home, Studio 6B at Rockefeller Center, albeit with a state-of-the-art overhaul that expanded the number of audience seats and made its acoustics the best in the business. Fallon also made the show’s official logo a full moon with the show’s title superimposed on it, and also made the program’s full title “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
“Not since ‘The Honeymooners’ in the ’50s has anyone been using a full moon in their show’s art, but always crescents, even though the full moon is the jam,” explains Fallon. “Also, it was always ‘The Tonight Show Starring’ all the way through Johnny Carson, and then Leno changed it to say ‘The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.’ But this is show business, and it’s glamorous, Hollywood, fun, so saying ‘Starring’ is an homage, a little tip of the cap to the origins of the show and I thought it’d be perfect.”
The transition from Leno to Fallon appears to be going more smoothly than the last time Leno was scheduled to leave his esteemed perch, back in 2009. After announcing in 2004 that he would give the show to then-“Late Night” host Conan O’Brien in 2009, Leno and NBC very publicly stabbed O’Brien in the back by giving Leno a prime time talk show nightly that destroyed the network’s ratings and sent the “Tonight” ratings into a tailspin that was beyond O’Brien’s control.
After just seven months, O’Brien was sent packing and Leno was back in charge, where he is still the top late-night show host despite the fact his ratings never returned to their former levels. Fallon stayed quiet and neutral during the entire dustup, and says that Leno has been nothing but helpful in his own preparations for the job.
“Jay has spoken to me weekly ever since I was named the new host last April, and he advised me to work on my monologue,” says Fallon. “I used to do just three or four minutes of monologue jokes each night, and he told me I’d need 10 minutes on ‘Tonight’ because a lot of people these days get their world news from watching late-night jokes, so I’ve been amping up to 10 minutes a night to be ready.”
Considering the fact that both Carson and Leno retired in their 60s, with Carson leaving after 30 years and Leno after 22, this could be the job that takes Fallon all the way to his golden years. That could be daunting for some, but given the fact that he already took his “Late Night” show to far greater creative and ratings success than anyone including himself ever imagined, it is an opportunity and a challenge that he is eager to face.
“I was born and raised in New York and I live there with my wife, and we have a 6-month-old baby now, so aside from the historical aspect I had to have the show there,” says Fallon, who nonetheless promised to bring “Tonight” tapings to Los Angeles at least one or two weeks each year.
“It’s a beautiful city, especially at night with the lights of Times Square, and everything there has a sense of glamour. And ‘The Tonight Show’ should always have glamour. If it lasts five years or 25 for me, I just want to bear down and do the best job I can.”
“The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” debuts at 11:35 p.m. Monday, Feb. 17 on NBC.
I won the title of "America's Funniest Reporter" in a national contest at the Laugh Factory club in Hollywood.
I'm a free-thinking political junkie, standup comedian/reporter and film addict. I'm a big champion of the underdog and love to help others in real life personally as well as as a reporter. I've gone undercover as an inflatable dinosaur whoring myself for Kraft Mac & Cheese, as a Guardian Angel subway vigilante, and injured myself five times while joining a circus for a story. I'm a magnet for weird events and weirder people and you can read all about it on my blog through my articles and essays. I also get to do a ton of celebrity interviews and movie reviews and you will find those there too both now and more in the future.