Jimmy Fallon has been accused of creating and fueling a toxic work environment on the set of "The Tonight Show," per a new report from Rolling Stone that spotlights two current and 14 ex-staffers. The staffers worked in a range of positions, from production crew members to office workers and in the writers' room. Many said they left for the sake of their own mental health, while others said they were outright fired from the show.
Rolling Stone contacted more than 50 "Tonight Show" employees, past and present, in preparation for the report. The outlet reached out to an additional 30 current and former staffers after reaching out to representatives for Fallon and NBC.
"While many of them praised Fallon's immense talent and comedic gifts, not a single one agreed to speak on the record or had positive things to say about working on 'The Tonight Show,'" Rolling Stone wrote. "Nor would any of the program's nine showrunners since 2014 comment about the program's namesake on the record — they wouldn't even give statements of support, as is common in the entertainment industry."
Former staffers described "The Tonight Show" as a tense and "pretty glum atmosphere." They said it was pretty common to hear people joking about "wanting to kill themselves," and referring to guests' dressing rooms as "crying rooms" because that's where they would go to release their emotions in private amid the alleged mistreatment.
The harsh work environment took a toll on staffers' mental health. Many said they had nightmares related to work and were in a constant state of fear. One employee said they had their first anxiety attack while working at the show. Another said they experienced hair thinning and weakened nail beds from the stress. Three employees said they had suicidal thoughts while working on the show.
"It's a bummer because it was my dream job," a former employee said. "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."
Although representatives for Fallon declined to comment on the record, a spokesperson for NBC defended the program in a statement, saying, "We are incredibly proud of 'The Tonight Show,' and providing a respectful working environment is a top priority." The statement failed to mention Fallon himself.
Current and former staffers alike told Rolling Stone that the "ugly environment behind the scenes" started with Fallon and was intensified by its nine different showrunners in the past nine years.
Here's a breakdown of all the complaints made against Fallon:
01 "Good Jimmy days" vs. "Bad Jimmy days"
Staffers said that behind the scenes, the host had "good Jimmy days" — when Fallon's on-screen chipper, witty and amicable personality was on full display — or "bad Jimmy days" — when Fallon's "outbursts" and unexpected, inconsistent behavior made employees incredibly fearful of him.
During a 2017 rehearsal, Fallon reportedly had one of his many "bad Jimmy days." Several employees noticed him crossing out jokes on a piece of paper he was holding before he re-examined that same sheet of paper a few minutes later, clearly confused — and agitated — about the revisions he had made.
"He couldn't remember he had just crossed it out himself," the employee said. "I was like, 'Oh, my God, he [seems] drunk. He doesn't know what he's doing. This could be awful — this could be the end of the show right here.'" Another staffer said they also witnessed the incident from a live studio feed inside their office.
02 Staffers lost faith in senior leadership, who couldn't handle Fallon
"The Tonight Show" has had six different groups of leadership teams during its nine years on air. Josh Lieb started off as showrunner in 2014. In 2016, Mike DiCenzo, Katie Hockmeyer, and Gerard Bradford took over as a trio. Jim Bell then had a short term from 2018 until 2019. From 2019 to 2020, Gavin Purcell took over the position before being replaced by co-showrunners Jamie Granet-Bederman and Nedaa Sweiss in 2020. As of March 2022, Chris Miller holds the current title as "The Tonight Show" showrunner.
The show's lack of a stable, longterm showrunner consequently contributed to the "chaotic atmosphere among staffers, many of whom have lost faith in senior leadership," Rolling Stone wrote.
"Nobody told Jimmy, 'No.' Everybody walked on eggshells, especially showrunners," one former employee said. "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."
03 Fallon allegedly has a very short fuse
"Tonight Show" employees said "they've witnessed Fallon snap at crew members, express irritation over the smallest of things, and berate and belittle staffers out of frustration," Rolling Stone wrote. Three employees said Fallon berated them in front of other colleagues and crew members.
"It was like, if Jimmy is in a bad mood, everyone's day is f**ked," a former staffer said. "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."
On days when Fallon was "not having a good day," employees commonly used the phrase "we're up against it" to warn each other in the office that they too would be having a rough work day.
04 Staffers saw Fallon seemingly inebriated at work
Although Fallon denied having a problematic relationship with alcohol in a 2017 New York Times profile, he was seen showing up to work seemingly hungover or under-the-influence by several staffers. Two employees said they thought they smelled alcohol on Fallon's breath when they entered an elevator with him during the workday. The incident took place on separate occasions in 2019 and 2020.
Eight former employees added that Fallon's behavior seemed to be dependent on whether he was hungover from the night before or not:
"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," one former staffer 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."
05 Fallon often put his toxic behavior into writing
"Sometimes we would get nice Jimmy, but that sometimes was not a lot," one former employee said. "It was just really, really sad to me that this really talented man created such a horrible environment for the people there."
One employee said they felt like Fallon's notes and feedback were more insulting rather than constructive, especially when he was in a bad mood. They said he would write comments like, "Are you OK? Seriously, do you need help?" Photos of the employees' alleged notes from Fallon read, "Ugh, lame. What is going on with you? You've outdone yourself."
The same employee said Fallon also sent combative emails when he wasn't pleased with his staffers' work.
06 Fallon scolded a crew member in the middle of a taping with comedian Jerry Seinfeld
Recalled by two employees, the "uncomfortable moment" involved Fallon scolding the crew member who was in charge of his cue cards amid a taping with comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Fallon allegedly apologized to the cue-card production member only after Seinfeld told him to do so.
Per Rolling Stone, the employees said the incident, "which felt awkward to watch," did not make it to the version of the show that appeared on television.
Following the publication of the report, Seinfeld sent a statement to the outlet, saying the situation was far from uncomfortable or awkward and more silly:
"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."
07 Fallon didn't directly acknowledge his blackface skit with staffers
Amid the George Floyd protests and Black Lives Matter movement in the summer of 2020, a video of Fallon in blackface during a past "Saturday Night Live" skit resurfaced online. Although Fallon tweeted an apology for the video and spoke to The New York Times about the incident, many employees were enraged because Fallon failed to directly acknowledge the incident with them.
"It was the first time I had seen the video even though I was told, 'Oh, this resurfaced again,'" one former employee said. "So I'm sure for many other people on staff, especially younger folks, it was probably the first time they were seeing it, too." The same employee said when the clip started going viral online, senior leadership initially wanted to "sweep it under the rug."
"I asked, 'Are we going to use this as an educational moment? Are we going to be a pillar of change and be the role model as an example for the future?'"
Employees also faced mistreatment at the hands of show runner Granet-Bederman, who allegedly fat-shamed staff and commented on a Black staffer's hair. Two employees also said they were mistreated by Sweiss who bullied, intimidated, and yelled at them.
"They are the worst bosses I've ever had in my life. They use that position of power to bully and treat the staff that way, and the network is aware of how they treat people," one former employee said. "They not only continue to enable it, but they reward it."
Former staffers said they spoke to HR about their experiences behind the scenes of the show, but were met with hostility instead of solutions. One employee said they never reported their issues to HR because they say their fellow colleagues subsequently get fired after speaking up.
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