Annie Leibovitz exclusively for Vanity Fair
As Jimmy Fallon prepares for his Tonight Show takeover, the funnyman is taking a look back at his iconic rise to fame.
The 39-year-old soon-to-be former Late Night host appears on the February cover of Vanity Fair in which he opens up about his friendship with Lorne Michaels, his lifelong obsession with Saturday Night Live and his upcoming transition into Tonight Show territory.
Fallon's biggest dream as a teenager was to star on SNL, and he recalls how he insisted he watch the show alone in order to master the art of sketch TV comedy.
"I just didn't want anyone ruining my experience," Fallon tells Vanity Fair. "No small talk. I wanted to see the sketches, the new characters, what the angle was."
He religiously viewed the show on an almost-nightly basis, kicking back a few beers at his parents' home while he prepped for what would later become a wildly successful audition.
"As long as I wasn't doing anything at night, I'd just sit by myself, and I would have a six-pack of Pabst," he says. "I don't know if I made it all the way through the six, but I'd just sit there and watch the show. And tape it."
And in Fallon's case, practice indeed made perfect as he nailed the notoriously difficult audition at the age of 24.
"I was there in the room that day," SNL vet Tina Fey recalls. "He's one of two people I've ever seen who was completely ready to be on the show. Kristen Wiig is the other one…. And Jimmy was ready—like, if there had been a show to do that night."
In addition to achieving his dreams after landing his gig on SNL, the comedian also developed a close relationship with producer Lorne Michaels, whom he turned to for advice as he gained fame and notoriety.
"Lorne helped me with everything—with relationships, with me getting famous," Fallon says. "I was going through certain steps, and there were certain things I couldn't talk to my dad about, because he wouldn't know. Like 'I have money now. Do I still rent? Do I buy an apartment?' Or 'I'm in L.A., and I have to rent a car.' [And Lorne would say] 'You should get a Lexus, because you want to be quiet.' Or 'Should I date this actress?' [Lorne would say] 'You can date her, but you probably shouldn't marry her.' And he'd be totally right."
As for Fallon's Tonight Show tenure, which begins Feb. 17?
"It's still going to be the same show," Fallon explains. "What I can tell you is it will be the best of what we do."