As the host of “The Tonight Show,” Jimmy Fallon’s on-air persona is one of relentless positivity. But off-camera, the star may not be so nice, according to a new Rolling Stone report that alleges the former “Saturday Night Live” star has created a toxic workplace at the storied late night institution.
The report, published Thursday, speaks to two current “Tonight Show” staff members and 14 former staffers who worked on the show since Fallon took over as host in 2014, all of whom remained anonymous. All of the sources portray “The Tonight Show” as a toxic, ugly environment, where staffers are intimidated and belittled by their bosses, including Fallon himself, and HR complaints go unrecognized. Several of the sources said the environment caused negative effects on the mental health of themselves and their coworkers; it allegedly became commonplace on the show to joke about killing yourself, and guests’ dressing rooms became known as “crying rooms” where staffers would go to let out their emotions due to the mistreatment.
One source close to “The Tonight Show” told IndieWire that NBC offered up “20” members of the Fallon’s staff to Rolling Stone as voices in support of the late-night host. Rolling Stone declined to include those people, our source said, because they each requested anonymity. Rolling Stone also wanted the staffers to respond to each of the individual allegations against Fallon in its piece, the person added.
“(Showrunner) Chris Miller is a well-liked and highly respected leader, and Jimmy is beloved by the staff,” the source close to the show said. “Together they are committed to fostering a positive environment at the show.”
A source with knowledge of Rolling Stone’s side tells a very different story: NBC did give Rolling Stone the names of 20 staffers who would supposedly attest to a positive work experience at Fallon’s “Tonight Show,” but it did not provide their contact information. The source told IndieWire that Rolling Stone independently contacted those same 20 people (in addition to dozens of others) and that not one of them actually shared a positive experience.
In the story, much of the blame for the culture of “The Tonight Show,” described as “far outside the boundaries of what’s considered normal in the high-pressure world of late-night TV,” is placed on Fallon himself. The staffers spoken to in the story portray the comedian as irritable and erratic, with a tendency for outbursts in which he would belittle and humiliate staff members. As a result of Fallon’s alleged behavior, the show experienced a high amount of churn in senior leadership, with six teams of nine showrunners leading the series during its nine year run.
Several of the quoted staffers alleged that Fallon’s erratic behavior might be due to alleged alcoholism; two employees alleged they saw Fallon seemingly inebriated during a rehearsal in 2017, and another two employees claimed on separate occasions in 2019 and 2020 to have smelled alcohol on his breath. Other staffers said Fallon often seemed to be hungover from the night before, which often impacted his behavior.
Specific incidents of Fallon engaging in unprofessional behavior toward staffers alleged in the story include writing personal insults in feedback notes and sending combative emails. Two employees alleged that, during a taping with Jerry Seinfeld, Fallon harshly scolded a crew member in charge of cue cards, and only apologized when Seinfeld forced him to.
Seinfeld initially didn’t respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment, but in a statement sent to the publication after the article went live, called the version of the story an “idiotic twisting of events.” “This is so stupid. I remember this moment quite well,” he wrote in his statement. “I teased Jimmy about a flub, and we all had a fun laugh about how rarely Jimmy is thrown off. It was not uncomfortable at all. Jimmy and I still occasionally recall it and laugh.”
The report also describes a racial reckoning that occurred at “The Tonight Show” in 2020, when — during the wave of Black Lives Matter protests across the country — a notorious “SNL” sketch from 2000 where Fallon did blackface resurfaced. Fallon apologized, and then showrunner Gavin Purcell instituted regular diversity and inclusion meetings. However, things changed for the worse when Purcell left and was replaced by the team of Jamie Granet-Bederman and Nedaa Sweiss.
Five sources alleged that Granet-Bederman began bullying and mistreating staff, particularly Black employees. One Black employee alleges she would ask them “What is going on with your hair?” and make comments about the food people eat, asking staffers “We’re just eating a lot today and not caring about what we look like?” Granet-Bederman left the show last year, and was replaced by current showrunner Miller.
The Rolling Stone report isn’t the first time Fallon has been the subject of serious accusations. Last year, the comedian was named as a defendant in a sexual misconduct lawsuit against his former “Saturday Night Live” costar Horatio Sanz. The plaintiff, who accused Sanz of grooming and sexually assaulting her, alleged that Fallon — along with Lorne Michaels and Tracey Morgan — enabled Sanz’s misconduct. Fallon, in particular, was accused of inviting the plaintiff to “SNL” afterparties as a teenager and drinking with her and Sanz.
“The Tonight Show,” along with the rest of its late-night peers, is currently off the air due to the WGA strike that began in May; Fallon, along with other hosts like Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers, recently launched a Spotify podcast, with the proceeds going to support for their late-night staffers. In 2021, “The Tonight Show” series was renewed, with Fallon as the host, through 2026.
Reporting by Tony Maglio