Jimmy Fallon (Saturday Night Live), the beloved Tonight Show host, has been accused of allegedly creating a toxic work environment. Although on his show he radiates positivity and his program is centered around feel-good, casual and low-pressure interviews and sketches, the workplace may be the total opposite.
Fallon, who was known to have a friendly and charismatic persona on screen, first became an audience favorite when he was a part of the Saturday Night Live cast. While he constantly broke character and filled his scenes with giggles, he was still a fan favorite as appeared in many famous sketches that audiences still quote today. But off screen, this does not seem to be the case. In a report, published Thursday by Rolling Stone, 16 employees on The Tonight Show, two who are still working on the show, have spoken out accusing Fallon of creating a toxic workplace for several years.
In the field of late-night television, it is very common for there to be a lot of pressure. It is a high-stakes area of entertainment and with a fast-paced schedule, and it is not a surprise when those working on these shows feel the burn of all the work they are doing. But according to the 16 employees who are speaking out on the matter, The Tonight Show’s pressure is unlike any other and it roots all the way at the top with Fallon and his erratic behavior. The report to Rolling Stone states that there are “good Jimmy days” and “bad Jimmy days,” referring to the inconsistent attitude of The Tonight Show host with behavior such as alleged “outbursts” and even an instance of staff worrying that he was intoxicated on set during rehearsals.
This environment has taken a toll on the mental health of workers at The Tonight Show. Employees told Rolling Stone that it was not unusual to hear people joke about wanting to “kill themselves” and referring to guest dressing rooms and offices as “crying rooms”.
“It’s a bummer because it was my dream job,” a former employee tells Rolling Stone. “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.” Fallon has also been accused of cruel feedback when it comes to written material and showrunners have been accused of firing employees without a cause.
This toxicity allegedly began when Fallon made the switch from Late Night to The Tonight Show. With showrunners constantly being changed, they are unwilling to help out when employees are in need, and those working on The Tonight Show are subject to the “outbursts” on bad days. The program has now gone through six different leadership teams in its nine years of running. Josh Lieb (The Daily Show) started as the showrunner in 2014, then Mike DiCenzo (Saturday Night Live), Katie Hockmeyer (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon), and Gerard Bradford (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon) took over when he left after two short years in 2016. Following them, Jim Bell (The Today Show) took over from 2018 to 2019 for a brief time, then Gavin Purcell (I Love You, America with Sarah Silverman) from 2019 to 2020 with Nedaa Sweiss (The Late Late Show with James Corden) and Jamie Granet-Bederman (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon) replacing him in 2020 up until Chris Miller (Drew Barrymore Show) became the showrunner in March 2022.
“I just don’t think they’ve landed on a leader who can keep it together,” a former staffer told Rolling Stone. “Nobody told Jimmy, ‘No.’ Everybody walked on eggshells, especially showrunners,” another former employee says. “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.”
The inconsistent leadership has created the alleged chaotic and erratic atmosphere in the workplace. With those on top constantly being changed, many staff members had mental and physical reactions due to work. Employees told Rolling Stone that they had nightmares, anxiety attacks, experienced weight loss and hair thinning, and are now in therapy due to the harsh environment created by Fallon and the showrunners. Three staff members also spoke out about how they were pushed so hard mentally that they experienced suicidal ideation as a result of the workplace.
“It was like, if Jimmy is in a bad mood, everyone’s day is f***ed,” one former employee says. “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.”
Among employees, a common phrase was “We’re up against it” in order to signal to each other if Fallon was “not having a good day” and to buckle up because in that case, they were in for a bad day as well. “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 tells Rolling Stone, referring to Fallon’s “bad days”. “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.”
Fallon allegedly used combative and insulting comments on written work instead of using constructive criticism. He would use comments such as “Are you OK? Seriously, do you need help?” instead of any sort of helpful feedback.
“I love The Tonight Show, and I love comedy. I gave my heart and soul to that place. I want to see them succeed and do well, but for that to happen, there are major changes that need to take place, starting with Jimmy,” a former employee says. “They all need to dig their heads out of the sand and do something about the very obvious problems that we all know are happening.”
The Tonight Show was renewed in 2021 by NBC until 2026. Due to the allegations made against Fallon and the inability to hold leadership, there is a pessimistic attitude on the future of the talk show. Several employees rightfully are stating that they need to see changes in the workplace in order to have a successful continuation and would like NBC to hold Fallon accountable for these allegations and the toxic environment. The Tonight Show is currently dark due to the WGA strike.