Late-night talk shows are often funny, sometimes daring and occasionally ground-breaking. But when the cameras stop rolling, some scandalous goings on might be occurring behind the scenes. For instance, did you know that one of the hosts couldn’t stand his job? Or that another experienced some dodgy dealings with a blackmailer? Well, read on for the punch-lines to these setups and many more besides.
40. Jimmy Fallon often works 12-hour days
It may be easy to assume that late-night TV hosts show up, record, then split. But think of the preparation that goes into each show. For instance, Late Night presenter Jimmy Fallon’s working day starts at 10:00 a.m. with calls, followed by a content meeting before noon. More discussions and rehearsals follow, and it’ll often be around 10:00 p.m. by the time filming is complete. Moreover, the comedian may not go home before midnight.
39. O’Brien’s most cherished segment happened by accident
Long-time viewers of The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien will be familiar with the popular skit Celebrity Secrets. However, what they may not know is that the now-recurring segment started life as a one-off piece with Star Trek star, William Shatner. But it proved so popular that they kept it as a regular sketch, which went on to feature guests as diverse as David Bowie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bono and Mr. T.
38. Trevor Noah was once tipped to appear in a sitcom produced by Will Smith
Soon after Trevor Noah moved to the U.S. to pursue a stand-up career, it looked as though the South African was about to hit the big time. In 2013 it was heavily reported that the comedian was set to become the star of a Will Smith-produced comedy on Fox. And, while it never came to be, it showed that Noah was destined for big things.
37. Johnny Carson didn’t fraternize with guests
Actor and director Orson Welles was a regular face on The Tonight Show. And he once noticed that Carson’s production team were shocked that the talk show host made an effort stop by before the interview. You see, it wasn’t something that Carson usually did. Indeed, he had a reputation for interrupting guests and only smiling if he genuinely found something funny.
36. Fallon almost didn’t get the Saturday Night Live gig
Fallon’s big break came when he joined the Saturday Night Live cast in 1998. However, it nearly didn’t happen. You see, the comedian failed his first audition when future 30 Rock star Tracy Morgan was selected instead. Then, after another try-out for the gig, Fallon waited an eternity for an answer. He told The Hollywood Reporter, “They make you wait six months.”
35. Jay Leno had ways of tempting guests onto his show
The Tonight Show host Jay Leno sometimes sent sweeteners to celebrities he wanted to appear on the show. For instance, in 2004 Leno gave Bill Clinton a specially constructed $12,000 bike after the latter underwent a cardiac operation. However, the former president was legally obliged to return it since his wife, Hillary, served as a New York senator at the time. And while he did later take a similar bike from the host, Clinton never agreed to Leno’s invitations.
34. Fallon’s viral greatness can happen in a day
Charlie Sheen had a self-confessed “cringeable” moment in 2011. The troubled actor uttered the now-infamous phrase “winning” and stated he has tiger’s blood in his veins during several uncomfortable interviews. Inspired by these faux pas, Fallon’s writing team quickly conceived the “Winning by Charlie Sheen” sketch, parodying the Two And A Half Men star promoting a cologne. It went viral the same day.
33. Jimmy Kimmel had audience members background checked
The audience in question was selected for a skit in which Oscars guests gatecrashed an exclusive film screening, surprising moviegoers. The move was inspired by a stunt the previous year, which went to plan but spooked producers when they learned one fan had recently been in jail. Taking no unnecessary risks, this time Kimmel’s team selected the participants more carefully.
32. Leno was deeply unpopular
By all accounts, Leno wasn’t popular among his peers, not least for edging out David Letterman as Carson’s replacement. For instance, Arsenio Hall said to Entertainment Weekly, “I always hear that [Leno] and I are friends when they interview him. [Leno] and I are not friends.” Dennis Miller added, “[Leno] and I were very good friends at one point. [However,] I don’t think I’d talk to him again…”
31. Fallon’s first show was a baptism by fire
The guests on Fallon’s first Late Night show were Justin Timberlake, Van Morrison and Robert De Niro, who notoriously doesn’t say much in interviews. And when the heat was on, the host understood the need to set the studio’s air conditioning particularly cold, just as Letterman did before him. “I don’t know how to do it, but to do it,” Fallon admitted of becoming a talk show host, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
30. Kimmel paid a big price on his way to the top
Jimmy Kimmel was no overnight success. He began his career in college radio, just like his hero, David Letterman. The talk show host met Gina Maddy at Arizona State University and they wed when he was only 20 years old. However, Kimmel’s drive to succeed weighed heavily on his marriage. Despite having two kids, he and Maddy parted ways in 2002, just after he became host of Jimmy Kimmel Live, with their divorced being finalized the following year.
29. A memorable part of Fallon’s Jersey Floor sketch was an accident
This Jersey Shore parody conceived by Fallon and co. didn’t go without a hitch. It sees the hard-partying Jersey Floor gang cause havoc, play pranks and dance on tables. And comedian Rachel Dratch almost plummeted through a trap door on a conference table while filming a scene. The mishap looked so authentic, however, that producers didn’t feel the need to cut it out.
28. Leno snubbed O.J. Simpson’s attorney
A 2014 book written by former The Tonight Show executive Dave Berg revealed secrets from the series. In Behind The Curtain: An Insider’s View Of…, Berg admitted certain stars snubbed the show, such as the notoriously prickly Christian Bale, and actress Helen Hunt following a terse exchange with a producer. But the tables turned when Leno refused an appearance by O.J. Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran, reputedly since Leno believed the defendant was guilty.
27. Trevor Noah’s self-confidence as a teen was blighted by acne
Host of The Daily Show Trevor Noah told NPR in November 2016, “I shied away from any type of photograph… because I thought I was hideous, because in my eyes I was. I had giant nodules on my face, around my neck, and the puss would ooze out of them. I had to go on medication repeatedly and the medication makes you suicidal and depressed and [affects] your kidneys. It was just such a trying time.”
26. Carson was an alcoholic
Many who knew Carson described a man who was difficult to get along with. That was in large part due to his fondness for alcohol. The talk show host apparently wasn’t too pleasant when he was drunk, and in 1982 he was arrested for driving while intoxicated. Carson received three years’ probation, was obliged to enter a rehabilitation scheme for and wasn’t allowed to drive anywhere but work – with no passengers, even animals.
25. Fallon’s 20s were much like anyone else’s
Aside from being hot property on SNL, Fallon’s 20s were similar to those of any other young adult. He and his friends would do karaoke nights, catch the shows from the latest hip bands and sit in bars until the small hours. All in the name of “work.” You see, Fallon and his SNL colleagues wanted to be everything they believed their heroes Chris Farley, Adam Sandler and John Belushi were.
24. Props are adapted for sensitivity on Jimmy Kimmel Live
As head-writer Danny Ricker explained to IndieWire in March 2018, “One of the writers said we should have a t-shirt cannon, and we were going to shoot loose Skittles out of it. But then we realized it was basically like a shotgun. We thought we might harm people.” So they came up with the hot dog cannon, which was softer and less menacing.
23. Trevor Noah spent his youth hiding from the police
Growing up under apartheid in South Africa, the future Daily Show host couldn’t risk being found by authorities. You see, there was a chance biracial children would be taken away from their families. “My grandmother kept me locked in the house when I was staying with the family in Soweto,” Noah later told NPR. “If the police did show up… it was a constant game of hide-and-seek.”
22. The original Daily Show host hated late-night talk shows
It was a rapid rise for Craig Kilborn, whose three-year stint hosting the Daily Show paved the way for five years on The Late Late Show. But then he practically disappeared. He subsequently informed the L.A. Times, “I didn’t leave to do anything else, I left to leave. I thought late night was crowded, the formats repetitive. I achieved my goals, and it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.”
21. No one thought Conan O’Brien would last
Though he had contributed materials The Simpsons and SNL, Conan O’Brien had practically zero experience in front of the camera, and his offbeat humor was an acquired taste. No one believed the awkward upstart would hack it as Letterman’s Late Night successor. Nevertheless, O’Brien proved the naysayers wrong and, after nearly three decades stands out as one of the best in a crowded field.
20. Fallon’s “History Of Rap” was famous in France… but he wasn’t
When Fallon teamed up with Justin Timberlake to perform the medley “History Of Rap” in 2010, the internet lapped it up. The skit even made it to France, in fact. When the singer-actor was on a promo tour for The Social Network that year, he emailed Fallon saying, “‘History Of Rap’ is on the cover of a French newspaper.” Fallon responded, “Dude, they know me in France?” Timberlake replied, “No!”
19. The Daily Show could have been hosted by Jon Leibowitz
After Jon Stewart’s father walked out on the family before Stewart had turned ten, only “complicated” relations remained between them following a bitter divorce. Indeed, tensions were so bad that Stewart changed his name upon deciding to pursue a career in entertainment. He told U.K. news outlet The Observer, “There was a thought of using my mother’s maiden name, but I thought that would be just too big a **** you to my dad.”
18. Leno wasn’t always uncompromising
Despite his peers’ unfavorable appraisals of his personality, Leno could actually be a soft touch. For sure, he wasn’t likely to pander to diva whims, such as paying Jessica Simpson’s requested $18,000 makeup and hair costs. However, he did pay out for the $35,000 private jet bill from Anchorage, Alaska, for Sarah Palin to appear on the show in 2008, with her family in tow.
17. Fallon got The Roots as his house band almost by accident
When throwing around ideas for the Late Night house band, producer Neal Brennan suggested asking The Roots… if they had any suggestions. But Fallon pitched the idea to the band anyway. When his invitation was met with silence, the host assumed they weren’t interested. However, they’d been away on tour, so set a meeting when they returned. As it happened, Questlove is a comedy nerd and jumped at the opportunity.
16. Leno’s “Jay Bar” had some unfortunate consequences
Some Tonight Show guests became incredibly nervous before appearing on the show. To combat stage fright, Leno created The Jay Bar to provide a little liquid confidence. However, some guests took liberties with the refreshments on offer. For instance, in 2003, director and producer Quentin Tarantino had a few too many and began slurring during the interview. He was drunk, of course.
15. Noah wasn’t first choice to host the Daily Show. Or second. Or third…
That the Daily Show opted for a relative unknown to replace Jon Stewart in 2015 came as a surprise to many. However, many A-listers turned down the job before he got the offer. For instance, it was a very rapid “no” from Amy Poehler, and Chris Rock wouldn’t commit for more than a year. Meanwhile, Amy Schumer preferred the risk of not having her life planned out for five years.
14. Letterman should have been Carson’s successor
When Letterman hosted Late Night in 1982, airing directly after The Tonight Show, he had one goal in mind: to succeed Carson. The respect between the two was huge. Indeed, Letterman was Carson’s chooice to take over when he retired in 1992. But NBC had other plans and gave the gig to Leno. So Letterman quit NBC, instead signing with CBS for the Late Show in direct competition to Leno.
13. Fallon worked hard to be picked as Emmys host
Despite hosting Late Night for a year, NBC weren’t convinced Fallon was the right person to helm the 2010 Emmys. So the comedian collaborated with senior executives to create a DVD showcasing his ideas. He won the network and the Academy over. Moreover, not only did viewing figures for both the Emmys and Late Night increase, but E! online also asked, “Did Jimmy Fallon host the best Emmys ever?”
12. Trevor Noah is the product of a crime
Noah’s 2016 memoir was called Born A Crime, because he literally was. You see, the comedian’s mom is black and his dad white; an illegal union in apartheid South Africa. And Noah was walking proof of their relationship. Though his mom served brief stretches in jail under South Africa’s racist laws, his parents were never caught in the act. That would’ve carried up to a four-year sentence.
11. Fallon is relieved the show didn’t move to L.A.
Fallon considers himself lucky The Tonight Show didn’t relocate to the West Coast because, as he told culture magazine Vulture in February 2014, “I’m the worst driver in the history of the world. My wife does all the driving. I can drive, like, technically, but I’m awful. You don’t want to be in the car with me. I drive slow, I use my blinkers, I’m really nervous.”
10. Carson had great financial difficulties
The Tonight Show was earning around $50 or so million annually in the 1970s. That profit equates to somewhere in the region of $200 million in the modern day. Nevertheless, by 2008 its host, Johnny Carson, had slipped more than half a million dollars into arrears on mortgage repayments. What’s more, legal wrangles looked like costing him a further $180,000 payment to Citibank. He explained to Larry King Live at the time that fame doesn’t necessarily equate to wealth.
9. Fallon still feels nervous around big celebrities
No matter how many stars he’s interviewed, Jimmy Fallon still becomes star struck. “I don’t feel like we’re equals and stuff because I’m still just a fan,” he told Vulture. “I love pop culture. But I think maybe I know a little bit more than the average host would know just starting off, because I’ve been on the other side of the couch, and so I know what it’s like.”
8. Family tragedy almost set Colbert on a very different path
Aged ten, Stephen Colbert lost his father and two older brothers in a plane crash. Though he’s one of 11 children, the talk show host’s siblings were old enough to have left their Charleston, South Carolina, home, meaning that only Colbert and his mother remained. As a result of his circumstances, Colbert’s behavior became erratic, to the point he told GQ he “barely graduated high school.” Thankfully, he got himself together.
7. Fallon’s monologues are tested on tourists
Great comedy rarely happens by accident. It takes a team of writers trying and testing material to discover what works and what doesn’t. The best way to do this is by running a dress rehearsal. Only Jimmy Fallon’s are slightly different. This comedian tests his jokes and monologues on groups of tourists, and he’ll pick the ten that work best to keep in the show.
6. Carson supplied Letterman with jokes
Even in retirement, Carson wasn’t able to break old habits. It was learned in 2005 that the comedian still avidly watched late-night talk shows, despite quitting 13 years earlier. Even as he read the day’s newspapers, he’d continually churn out gags that he might have used in monologues. He’d pass them on to Letterman, who hosted a talk show in direct competition with Carson’s former gig.
5. Fallon was once prone to doing some dumb stuff
When former SNL colleague and boozing partner Horatio Sanz got together with Jimmy Fallon, hell sometimes broke loose. When Sanz had enough of a boombox of Fallon’s, the pair opted to demolish it, so they chucked it at a wall. However, as they were in New York just weeks after 9/11, the loud noise freaked people out. “People were screaming,” Sanz recalled to Vulture. “One woman started crying.”
4. Carson saw one person as being the root of his problems
Whatever his issues, be it financial difficulties, alcoholism or failed marriages, there was one person Carson blamed for it all: his reportedly “heartless” mom, Ruth. According to the History By Day website, he once claimed, “She’s the toughest son of an [expletive] of them all. There is no goddamn way to please that woman. She’s Lady Macbeth! My marriages failed because she [expletive] me up!” He even skipped her funeral, saying, “The wicked witch is dead.”
3. Letterman was involved in an extortion plot
At a 2009 recording of The Late Show, Letterman dropped a bombshell. He admitted that he had illicit affairs with female staff members. What’s more, his infidelities would be exposed if he didn’t hand over $2 million. An extortionist threatened to write a script about Letterman’s behaviour if he didn’t pay. Instead, the Manhattan D.A. gave the host a fraudulent check in order to capture the perpetrator.
2. Conan O’Brien’s holy stalker
In 2007, Father David Ajemian was charged with harassing and stalking O’Brien after mailing him a series of threatening notes. According to The New York Post, one alluded to Virginia Tech gunman Seung Cho. It read, “Even if I did once look out on that dark and dreaded doorway on West 72[nd] Street, remember Frank Costello once dodged a bullet in your building, and so can you.” Gangster Costello was shot and wounded at that address in 1957.
1. Carson’s gun-toting home invasion
Carson’s advisor of almost two decades, lawyer Henry Bushkin alleged that he assisted the talk show host in breaking into Carson’s second wife’s New York apartment. You see, in 1962 the comic was looking for evidence that she was having an affair. Seeing framed photos of the New York Giants footballer Frank Gifford caused Carson to break down in tears. Moreover, Bushkin was stunned when Carson’s coat fell open to reveal a .38 pistol.