Fallon remembers turning to the veteran late-night host while still an SNL cast member after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Jimmy Fallon David Letterman
Credit: NBC; John Paul Filo/CBS via Getty Images
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (screen grab) CR: NBC

The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon has entertained fans from his home since social distancing was recommended during the coronavirus pandemic, and that decision was made after remembering how another late-night host dealt with an uncomfortable situation nearly two decades ago.

Fallon was a (virtual) guest on SiriusXM's The Howard Stern Show and recalled how he turned to David Letterman after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 and an inspiring monologue that stuck with him all these years. That's when he knew: the show must go on.

"I remember this. I'm paraphrasing," Fallon told Stern. "There's only one requirement in any of us and that is to be courageous. Courage defines all human behavior. I've been around long enough. I think pretending to be courageous is just as good as the real thing."

Fallon remembered the moment while discussing his transition to working from home. Fallon told Stern the most similar situation to the state of uncertainty today is when he was on Saturday Night Live during 9/11.

"It was just a bizarre time. it was just so weird. I feel the same weirdness now," he said.

The attacks happened 18 days before the start of SNL's season 27, killing nearly 3,000 civilians and causing massive shockwaves and panic throughout New York City and the entire United States.

Fallon—an SNL cast member from 1998 to 2004—told Stern he remembered turning to late-night hosts at the time for their takes on the situation.

"I remember watching Letterman," he said. "He was out there doing the show. We didn't know what to do, can we laugh or do anything?"

The sketch comedy show returned on Sept. 29, beginning with NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani and several 9/11 first responders on stage as not only a tribute but an announcement that it was OK for us to laugh again. "Can we be funny?" Lorne Michaels asked Giuliani on the show. "Why start now," Giuliani quipped, lifting the weight off the shoulders of everyone watching.

Letterman's rousing eight-minute Late Show speech was a moment Fallon returned to as the coronavirus pandemic started and he could no longer go to work.

"I Zoomed all my producers. I said, 'We've got to do something. I'm going to do something. I'm going to put on a show.'"

Fallon is one of several late-night hosts who have been doing their duties from home, a list that includes Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, and Seth Meyers, among others.

Watch the video of Fallon above, and see more clips of Fallon on Stern here.

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The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (screen grab) CR: NBC
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