Fallon, Chase and the unfunny funny business

The Rolling Stone exposé makes me remember comedy’s dark behind-the-scenes.

(Diya Srivastava / Daily Trojan)

Although I am naturally comedically gifted, I never held any desire to work in the field. And everything I learn about the behind-the-scenes world of comedy only confirms my aversion.

The Rolling Stone investigation of Jimmy Fallon and “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” only furthered my thoughts. In “Chaos, Comedy, and ‘Crying Rooms’: Inside Jimmy Fallon’s ‘Tonight Show,’” which was published earlier this month, journalist Krystie Lee Yandoli spoke to 16 “Tonight Show” workers — two current, 14 former.

Interviewees told Rolling Stone their mental and physical health decreased while working on the show because of intense pressure from leadership, including Fallon. Employees cited anxiety attacks, hair loss and suicidal ideation.

A consistent theme throughout the article was employees speaking of “erratic” behavior from Fallon, leaving staff unsure of his next move. Currently, Fallon, along with the rest of late-night television, is off-air because of continuing writer’s strikes. However, following the publication of the Rolling Stone article, Fallon held a “Tonight Show” Zoom call for his staff in which he apologized, saying, “I feel so bad I can’t even tell you.” Employees told the magazine he seemed “earnest.” Rolling Stone also added words from other employees who had positive experiences at the show, with one calling working at “The Tonight Show” “a joyful adventure.”

On May 16, HuffPost reported “Tonight Show” non-union staffers were being put on an “unpaid leave of absence” three weeks into the writers’ strike, while Seth Meyer and Stephen Colbert’s staff were reportedly still being paid.   

Now, Fallon is co-hosting “Strike Force Five” alongside late-night hosts Jimmy Kimmel, John Oliver, Meyers and Colbert. The profits of the 12-episode podcast go toward paying the out-of-work late-night staff.

I am not here to label Fallon as good or bad; I am a random college student across the country with no connection to him or the show. All I can hope is that “The Tonight Show” treats the staff with respect, forms a safe work environment and makes the needed changes.

What I will say, however, is the Rolling Stone exposé transported me back to Tina Fey’s 2011 memoir “Bossypants” (which I was way too young to read). In the autobiography, Fey includes a Fallon-Amy Poehler interaction during the trio’s “Saturday Night Live” days.

Fey recalls Poehler, early in her “SNL” career, making a vulgar, “unladylike” joke and Fallon responding by saying, “Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it.” When Poehler didn’t comply with his request, Fey describes Fallon as “visibly shocked.” (Another concern brought up in the Rolling Stone piece is that Fallon is surrounded by people who say “yes” to him.)

“SNL” has a long-standing reputation of being a “boy’s club.” Even though there has been improvement, today’s cast is still men-heavy. In the show’s long history, there has never been gender parity in the cast. Back in Fallon’s era, it was common for the men cast members to play women characters (a stunt that manages to insult so many groups of people in one fell swoop that it’s almost impressive).

Original “SNL” cast member Jane Curtin spoke about the men of the cast thinking “women should not be here.” People who know me know I have an extreme love-hate relationship with the infamous sketch show, and the more I remember the show’s history, the more that “hate” side is fueled.

Being the person I am, I read the 800-page “SNL” tell-all book: “Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests.”

As an English major, I’m trained to follow themes and motifs in every book I read. Theme number one: Chevy Chase is an asshole.

Chase was an original cast member on “SNL” and is often lauded as the show’s first break-out star. Even though he was integral in getting the sketch show off the ground, I think it would be nearly impossible to find a positive “SNL” Chase story. With intense homophobia, sexual harassment, physical violence and more in the Chase stories, all I can feel is sadness and anger thinking of those eras and the people who had to deal with him.

Yes, he’s been banned from the show and is pretty universally known to be the worst, but he still takes up my screen every time I put on “Community.” He will always be intertwined with comedy history, especially if, as he claims, he “invented every funny thing that ever happened in the history of not just comedy, but also the known world.” (Although this is, of course, what I say about myself every morning.)

Again, I’m just some college student who enjoys comedy a bit more than the average person. I’m not sure what my place as the consumer is in all of this. All I do know is watching stand-up, sketches and sitcoms is what gets me through some of my toughest times. Knowing the mistreatment of those putting in the work to make that happen is devastating. All I can hope is that the people making those comedic moments for me are well-treated and respected — and well-paid!

Kimberly Aguirre is a junior writing about comedy. Her column, “Comic Relief,” runs every other Friday. She is also an associate managing editor at the Daily Trojan.

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