His laughter fed into a perception that Fallon was some kind of preening ham out to steal attention from other cast members - so the subject still bums him out. "By the end of my last year, it was just such a thing . . . Lorne didn't like it, the writers didn't like it, and I was like, 'I'm not trying to do it on purpose. I'm trying not to do it.' But sometimes it just got insane. I couldn't hold it in, it was just so much fun. I would be giggling and laughing, and usually it was if something didn't work or if someone's wig came off, or I'd look at somebody and start laughing." For anyone who thinks Fallon was doing it on purpose, he offers as evidence a Debbie Downer-goes-to-Disney World sketch in which everyone lost it - including Sanz, who had to wipe tears from his eyes with Mickey Mouse-shaped waffles - and Fallon mostly hangs on until the end.
The real reason Fallon laughed so often on SNL may be simple: He's an obsessive fan of the show, and being part of the cast didn't change that. "He was shaped by it and devoted to it," says Fey. "In his look, even, he has, weirdly, a little kind of Mike Myers in him and a little Dana Carvey, like he was built in a lab to succeed on SNL."
Truth is, Fallon was downright fixated on SNL, skipping high school and college parties so that he could watch it as it aired. He idolizes John Belushi ("That's because he didn't know him," Michaels says, acidly) so fiercely that he once had friends drop him off at the star's grave on Martha's Vineyard with a six-pack, where he spent a couple of hours drinking and thanking Belushi for the inspiration. To this day, he sends Michaels multiple texts about the show as it airs, commenting on matters as arcane as lighting cues.
When Fallon left his small, historically Catholic college a semester early to move to L.A. and start auditioning for TV shows, he never let go of the SNL dream - when he got a tiny role on a WB sitcom, he negotiated a clause in his contract that would release him if he got onto Saturday Night Live. The producers agreed to it only because they found the prospect so unlikely.
Around that time, Fallon made a vow that's hard to square with everything else you know about him. "I remember saying to myself, 'If I don't make it on Saturday Night Live before I'm 25, I'm going to kill myself,'" he casually confesses one night. "It's crazy. I had no other plan. I didn't have friends, I didn't have a girlfriend, I didn't have anything going on. I had my career, that was it."
When Michaels hears about this for the first time, he breathes in sharply, and simply says, "Jesus." Fallon's older sister, Gloria, a writer-turned-stay-at-home-mom, hadn't heard this story before, either, but she's less impressed. "He probably just would have come home," she says, "and become a mailman."
At 12:30 a.m. every weekday, an alarm clock goes off in the master bedroom of the house in Saugerties, New York, where Fallon grew up. His parents, Gloria and Jimmy (who realized too late the potential confusion of giving your kids your own names), jump out of bed, brew some tea, and sit down to watch their son's TV show. They can't quite manage to stay up that late, so they simply interrupt their sleep after a couple of hours. Their son has begged them to watch it the next day on DVR, but they wave him off. They've seen every episode.
Little Jimmy, as his mom calls him, and his sister grew up accustomed to this kind of focused attention. "We were very over-protective," his mom acknowledges. She was the hippieish daughter of a Brooklyn cop; her husband was a former doo-wop singer who volunteered for Vietnam, because he thought it was "the right thing to do." Soon after their kids were born, the Fallons moved from Brooklyn to the sleepy upstate town of Saugerties, where Big Jimmy took a job at the local IBM plant.
As toddlers, Jimmy and his sister played almost exclusively with each other. "We went to kindergarten and suddenly we were all, 'Oh, there are little people just like us,'" says his sister. Even as they got older, they weren't allowed to leave their property without permission - so Jimmy would ride his bike again and again around the perimeter.
"We did it so much that there was a dirt track of where we used to ride our bikes, and I used to listen to my Walkman and ride my bike every day after school in circles," says Fallon. "I felt like Gus the Polar Bear in Central Park. I probably went a little nuts doing that." Around that time, he became obsessed with Dr. Demento and Weird Al - the first comedy his sister found too strange to enjoy.
Fallon was a class clown by sixth or seventh grade, occasionally annoying the nuns at his school. (He asked one sister if her habit was felt - then he touched it and said, "Now it is." She was unamused.) Rather eerily, his eighth-grade classmates voted him most likely to have David Letterman's job someday.
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