UPDATED 9/7, 9:43 p.m. ET: Jimmy Fallon has reportedly apologized to the Tonight Show staff.
According to Deadline and Rolling Stone, the late night host expressed his embarrassment over his on-set behavior, claiming he never intended to create a “toxic workplace.” He allegedly issued his apology during a Zoom meeting with showrunner Chris Miller as well as current and former Tonight Show staffers.
“It’s embarrassing and I feel so bad. Sorry if I embarrassed you and your family and friends,” Fallon reportedly said, as recalled by two employees who attended the meeting. “I feel so bad I can’t even tell you…I never set out to create that type of atmosphere at the show. I think sometimes I’m working with the best of the best, you guys are the top of the game…I want this show to be fun. It should be inclusive for everybody. It should be the best show.”
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Former employees of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon have detailed the "erratic behavior" of the show's host and the toxic workplace he fostered.
As reported by Krystie Lee Yandoli for Rolling Stone, two current and 14 former staffers on The Tonight Show said the behind-the-scenes atmosphere on the show was often "pretty glum" and filled with belittling comments and intimidation from bosses. While some of these bosses include the nine showrunners The Tonight Show has had in the last nine years, one of them is Fallon himself, who is allegedly prone to "outbursts" and behavior that varies wildly.
Seven employees who spoke with Rolling Stone anonymously said it was common to hear staff joke about “wanting to kill themselves." Some even used dressing rooms for guests as "crying rooms," because it's one of the few places they can be alone to vent their frustrations regarding the work culture. These employees worked in varying positions, from the writers' room to production crew and office staff. While some were fired, many also left because they considered the experience to be detrimental to their mental health.
“It’s a bummer because it was my dream job,” said one former staff member, who spoke under the condition of anonymity. “Writing for late night is a lot of people’s dream jobs, and they’re coming into this and it becomes a nightmare very quickly. It’s sad that it’s like that, especially knowing that it doesn’t have to be that way.”
The real shift in the workplace reportedly came when Fallon transitioned from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to The Tonight Show, which he took over from Jay Leno. “The producers felt this pressure, and that translated down to all of their employees. People that worked under them then felt this pressure that if you made one mistake, you were gone and would be easily replaced,” a former employee said. “You have all these NBC pages in the building who are ready, willing, and waiting to take your job.”
Many employees said they were scared of upsetting Fallon, who was prone to outbursts. “Nobody told Jimmy, ‘No,'" said another former employee. "You never knew which Jimmy we were going to get and when he was going to throw a hissy fit. Look how many showrunners went so quickly. We know they didn’t last long.”
A different former staff member said they were at the "lowest place" of their life during their time working on the show, and at one point they felt they "didn't want to live anymore." A total of four employees are in therapy because of their experiences, while three admitted they thought about suicide. They added, "I thought about taking my own life all the time."
Employees said it is common knowledge that Fallon can be "erratic." He is said to have snapped at crew members suddenly, and belittle staffers when frustrated. “It was like, if Jimmy is in a bad mood, everyone’s day is fucked,” one former employee added. “People wouldn’t joke around in the office, and they wouldn’t stand around and talk to each other. It was very much like, focus on whatever it is that you have to do because Jimmy’s in a bad mood, and if he sees that, he might fly off.”
While Fallon denied that he had a troubled relationship with alcohol in a New York Times profile in 2017, multiple employees said they noticed him drunk at work or smelled alcohol on his breath. Others said that his mood was always worse if he had been drinking the night before and they would often "avoid eye contact" with him.
One incident that staffers noted as especially uncomfortable was when Fallon scolded a crew member in charge of cue cards during a taped interview with Jerry Seinfeld. At that moment, Seinfeld appeared shocked at Fallon's comments and told him to apologize. For understandable reasons, this version of the interview did not make it to the final version of the episode. “It was very awkward, and Jerry [Seinfeld] was like, ‘You should apologize to him,’ almost trying to make it a joke,” one of the sources said. “It was one of the strangest moments ever and so many people were there, so it’s kind of hard to forget.”
While one former employee said they "love" The Tonight Show, it's clear that "major changes" need to take place, especially when it comes to Fallon himself. NBC representatives declined to directly respond to the allegations, they provided a statement acknowledging that several employees had "issues" during their time on the show.
“We are incredibly proud of The Tonight Show, and providing a respectful working environment is a top priority,” a spokesperson for NBC said in response to the reporting. “As in any workplace, we have had employees raise issues; those have been investigated and action has been taken where appropriate. As is always the case, we encourage employees who feel they have experienced or observed behavior inconsistent with our policies to report their concerns so that we may address them accordingly.”