"I am using corners of my brain that I haven't seen in a long time," the late-night host says.

By Sarah Rodman
April 09, 2020 at 01:37 PM EDT
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When EW chatted with Jimmy Fallon recently, The Tonight Show host was just beginning to adjust to the new normal of mounting an ad-hoc version of the show at his New York home, sans staff or audience. Fallon was at the start of the process of figuring it all out: enlisting wife Nancy Juvonen as his camera operator-producer and occasional segment guest, employing daughters Franny and Winnie as his sidekicks, doing celeb interviews remotely, and holding virtual jam sessions with the Roots. (Their take on the Stealer's Wheel, quarantine-appropriate, classic "Stuck in the Middle with You" was particularly nimble, see below.)

From watching Jennifer Garner play the saxophone to his daughter losing a tooth mid-show, it's been a lot of experimentation, which the 45-year-old New York native has enjoyed on a lot of levels but also makes him wistful for his Rockefeller Center studio, staff, and audiences. Like so many of us, he was also just really excited to connect: "Let's talk for an hour," he said with a laugh during our early-morning call. He also mentioned that he might be incorporating sock puppets into the show since necessity is the mother of invention. Read on for more of our chat with the always quick-to-laugh host.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First of all, how is your wife doing? She's been a really good sport during the "Ask the Fallons" segments.

JIMMY FALLON: She's a little freaked out. She said, "Don't tell them anything in the interview." [Laughs] I go, "It's fine." She says, "I don't want to hear it." She has stepped in behind the scenes. She does not like being on camera at all. She's cool, but she's like, "I don't want to hear how I looked. I don't want to hear anyone ask. I'm so much better being an audience member." [Laughs]

Well then, make sure not to tell her I think she's doing great.

Okay. I'm not telling her.

How quickly did you make the decision that you were going to press forward with the show? Did you have to find your way to it?

I said, "I have to do something. I just can't go off the air and disappear." People need something just to balance with all this craziness that's happening right now. So I said, "I don't know what it is, but we have all these socials — Instagram and Twitter and Tik Tok — I know there's got to be things that we can be doing, even just by myself." I just wanted to make sure everyone, all my staff writers are safe and at home. And then everyone was on board. All of my writing staff and my producers were like, "Let's put on a show!" So we took I think Monday [off], just to figure out how to talk. I'd never heard of Zoom and now my whole life is just Zoom meetings. I'd never heard of this thing two weeks ago! So we're just kind of learning and baby-stepping our way towards just putting some entertainment out there just to give us something else to talk about, you know?

Be honest, how much of you doing this is because you'd go out of your mind if you didn't do something?

Yeah. It might be some therapy stuff, exactly. [Laughs] You know what? I think my wife is happy that I'm doing this. Because she's like give him something to do. Because it's a lot of "we time" right now. [Laughs]

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon/Youtube

Do you feel like you're actually learning anything during this process that you think, "One day, if things get back to normal, these are some elements that we should incorporate into the show"?

Yeah, absolutely. By the way, I'm working on sock puppet stuff because I have no other characters. I have no wigs or anything in my house. So, I was actually up with my wife last night until 11 o'clock working on how to make sock puppets so that it looks kind of real. We have a background. It was just ridiculous. But we're being as creative as we can, trying to go like, "Okay. That could be something that we could do." So I am using corners of my brain that I haven't seen in a long time, so I'm sure some of this will go into the actual show whenever and if ever that comes back. Which I believe it will.

You had Trevor Noah on the show recently and I wonder if all of you late night folks are comparing notes? I'm picturing a Zoom poker game for some reason.

I know! I do want to do that. I've been texting with [Stephen] Colbert. And I got a couple of emails from [James] Corden just checking in and going, "Hey, this is bizarre. How are you? What's going on and what can we do?" So we're all kind of talking and just supporting each other.

[Ed. note: Fallon, Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel will be joining forces to co-host the upcoming cross-network, cross-platform One World: Together at Home benefit concert on Saturday, April 18.]

We're all also learning which of those meetings could have been emails or phone calls after all and how much make-up we don't need.

No, no. I've missed my makeup department. Oh my God! I look at some of these videos and go, "Oof! You'll get a little dose of reality there."

We're also getting a look inside your house and, dude, you have a slide? 

Come on, you have to have a slide in your house! [Laughs] That's all my wife, by the way. She's just brilliant. And I remember, we were talking and she goes, "I had a great meeting with the slide people." I go, "Okay." [Laughs]

So that didn't come standard with the house, is what you're saying? You had to install the slide?

I mean, yeah, of course. [Laughs] I always knew since I was a little boy that I was going to have a slide in my house.

You are also putting your kids to work and you clearly have no fear of showing that, a lot of the time, they don't think Daddy is funny. At one point you asked if they were going to laugh at your jokes and they were like, "Nope." Are they over being on the show?

They are over it. They have no idea. They don't even really realize that they're on a show or anything yet. I just say I'm putting this on The Tonight Show and they're like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." They don't really quite understand. But that's just them, the way they act normally, they're just really funny kids. So they know that that's going to get a laugh, if I say, "Are you going to laugh at me?" and they go, "No." They're doing it for a laugh.  But you get to see how different they are. I've never had my kids on Instagram or any socials but, at this point, desperate times, desperate measures.

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon/Youtube

You need the labor!

I really do. [Laughs] I mean, they're very hard to book. They have agents now. They want to get their SAG cards, it's unbelievable, they've really changed.

Are you finding any silver linings about this time, for you personally? You've been forced to think in new ways and getting to spend time with your kids so I imagine you are grateful for that.

I am getting to spend so much time with my kids, which I really love. They're amazing. I don't know if the feeling's mutual, but I absolutely love hanging out with them. I'm going to be sad when I have to go back to work.

Have you checked in on the Roots? Are they doing okay?

Oh, the Roots are doing great.  We're going to start putting them in the show. I just wanted everyone to get their own space. And Higgins is fine!

Watch EW's new daily series, Last Night's Late Night, every morning on Quibi. 

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