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Jimmy Fallon Accused of Fostering a Toxic Work Environment on The Tonight Show

The late night host is currently the talk of Hollywood, but for all the wrong reasons.
UPDATE: Jimmy Fallon has reportedly apologized to Tonight Show staffers following the Rolling Stone report, according to Variety.

“It’s embarrassing and I feel so bad. Sorry if I embarrassed you and your family and friends,” he reportedly said in a brief Zoom call. “I feel so bad I can’t even tell you… I want this show to be fun, it should be inclusive for everybody, it should be funny, it should be the best show, the best people.”PREVIOUS STORY: The world of late night television is turning on its head following claims that Jimmy Fallon, The Tonight Show’s seemingly bubbly host, fuels a toxic work environment. The news broke in an in-depth story on Rolling Stone, featuring accounts from two current and 14 former employees of the popular NBC talk show.

“It’s a bummer because it was my dream job,” said one employee. “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.”

Employees agreed that there are “good Jimmy days” — where the celebrity figure turns on the charm for the audience — and “bad Jimmy days” — where his fun-loving facade appears to falter. At his worst, employees said they are fearful of Fallon’s erratic “outbursts,” which they described as lashing out at the crew and belittling fellow staff members for minor inconveniences. All of the employees who were interviewed opted to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.

“It was like, if Jimmy is in a bad mood, everyone’s day is fucked,” another former employee revealed. “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.”

One example provided by two employees happened when the late night host reprimanded a crew member in charge of his cue cards during a taping with actor-comedian Jerry Seinfeld. An employee described the moment as “very awkward” and explained that it was omitted from the episode as it aired.”It was like, if Jimmy is in a bad mood, everyone’s day is fucked.

In response to a request for comment, Seinfeld told Rolling Stone he had a far different interpretation of the incident: “This is so stupid. I remember this moment quite well… 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. Idiotic twisting of events.”

Another example referenced was from a 2017 rehearsal where Fallon appeared to be confused about what to say next after absent-mindedly crossing out a few jokes from a piece of paper he had brought on set with him. One employee said they thought he seemed to be drunk: “He couldn’t remember he had just crossed it out himself,” they said. “This could be awful — this could be the end of the show right here.”

Two other employees also claimed they smelled alcohol on Fallon’s breath on other occasions — once in 2019 and again in 2020.

On days when Fallon’s temperament was especially poor, former employees admitted they would use the phrase “We’re up against it” as a signal to other employees. Despite bringing their complaints forward to human resources, staff members said the issues have yet to be resolved.

“When something was wrong, we all knew how to behave afterward, which was just sort of avoid eye contact and don’t make another mistake,” a past employee said. “It would happen over the smallest thing… We would have to shut the whole thing down, the sketch isn’t happening, and when things like that would happen, you would just beat yourself up.”

As a result, Fallon’s behavior has taken a drastic toll on the mental health of his staff, former employees agreed. Seven of these staff members argued it’s typical to hear fellow workers chide about “wanting to kill themselves” while walking around the set or even to find a staffer using a guest dressing room as a safe space to process their trauma. Four employees said their time on the show led them to seek out therapy, and three others admitted they had contemplated suicide due to their working conditions.

“I know other people who were in [my] department who also were unhappy with [mis]treatment but it was never a thing where any of us were empowered enough to say anything,” an employee said. “It just always felt like, ‘You should be grateful that you have a job, and you should be grateful that you have this position at this show, at this network. Everyone wants to be in this spot. You have worked hard to get here — it shouldn’t be a thing where you’re being ungrateful.’”

“It just always felt like, ‘You should be grateful that you have a job.’

Fallon’s representatives have yet to comment on the matter, though NBC released a statement to Rolling Stone that doesn’t address the host specifically.

“We are incredibly proud of The Tonight Show, and providing a respectful working environment is a top priority,” an NBC spokesperson told the outlet. “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.”

And while Fallon may come across as one of the bubblier late night hosts, this isn’t his first brush with controversy. As Black Lives Matter protests intensified across the nation in the summer of 2020, a 20-year-old video of Fallon in Blackface on Saturday Night Live went viral online. In the clip, Fallon attempted to impersonate comedian Chris Rock.

But Rock wasn’t angry. In an interview with the New York Times, the comedian defended Fallon, saying he doesn’t believe Fallon had any ill intent: “Hey, man, I’m friends with Jimmy. Jimmy’s a great guy,” Rock said. “And he didn’t mean anything. A lot of people want to say intention doesn’t matter, but it does. And I don’t think Jimmy Fallon intended to hurt me. And he didn’t.”

Fallon released an apology on social media shortly after the video resurfaced, though in today’s report, employees told Rolling Stone that Fallon failed to acknowledge the incident with his own staff. One former staff member said the host’s leadership team wanted to “sweep it under the rug.”

While the showrunner at the time, Gavin Purcell, did implement diversity and culture meetings afterward, Rolling Stone reports that employees were let down when new showrunners, Jamie Granet-Bederman and Nedaa Sweiss, took over later in 2020. In particular, five employees told the outlet that Granet-Bederman bullied and mistreated the staff.

The Tonight Show has been off the air since the writer’s strike began in May. Before it returns to the screen, employees say they hope Fallon and NBC are held accountable for their alleged mistreatment of staffers — from past to present.

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