Apparently, it isn’t all laughs at The Tonight Show. According to an exposé from Rolling Stone, 16 current and former staffers from The Tonight Show alleged that host Jimmy Fallon created a toxic environment due to his “erratic” behavior.

All 16 staffers, which included two current and 14 former staffers, who spoke to Rolling Stone requested anonymity when speaking to Rolling Stone out of fear of retaliation. The staffers, who ranged from production crew members to office staffers to members of the writers room, allege that Fallon’s mood was highly erratic, creating an “ugly environment behind the scenes,” which trickled down to the show’s constantly changing leadership. The Tonight Show has had nine different showrunners since 2014. Staffers allege that the showrunners were unable to “say no to Jimmy,” and claim that some showrunners behaved toxically themselves. “I just don’t think they’ve landed on a leader who can keep it together,” said one former staffer. (Under the current showrunner, Chris Miller, who started in March 2022, sources say there have been no formal complaints.)

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

The Rolling Stone story, written by Krystie Lee Yanoldi, begins with an anecdote alleging that Fallon appeared drunk on the set of the show. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God, he [seems] drunk on set,” said an anonymous Tonight Show employee. “He doesn’t know what he’s doing. This could be awful—this could be the end of the show right here.” Fallon denied a Page Six report from 2016 that alleged that NBC executives were concerned about his “out of control” drinking. In a 2017 New York Times profile, he said, “I could never do a day-to-day job if I was drinking every night. That’s just kicking you when you’re down.”

The story goes on to allege that Fallon has “good Jimmy days” and “bad Jimmy days,” where he’d allegedly “snap at crew members, express irritation over the smallest of things, and berate and belittle staffers out of frustration.” The staffers said that they used the phrase “we’re up against it” to warn each other when Fallon was allegedly having one of his bad days.

“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,” said one former staffer. “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.”

The Rolling Stone story also includes an anecdote where Fallon allegedly yelled at a cue card holder while taping with guest Jerry Seinfeld, prompting Seinfeld to tell Fallon to apologize to the employee in front of his studio audience. However, Seinfeld sent a statement to Rolling Stone in defense of Fallon, calling the anecdote an “idiotic twisting of events.”

“This is so stupid,” said Seinfeld. “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.”

Tonight Show staffers allege that Fallon’s erratic behavior led “to widespread fear” at The Tonight Show, with one staffer saying that the host created “a horrible environment for the people there.” Due to the alleged toxic work environment and the often-changing leadership, some staffers said they suffered anxiety attacks, were put on antianxiety medication, and even experienced suicidal ideation. “Mentally, I was in the lowest place of my life. I didn’t want to live anymore. I thought about taking my own life all the time,” said one former employee. “I knew deep down I would never actually do it, but in my head, I’m like, ‘Why do I think about this all the time?’” (Rolling Stone mentions that while many Tonight Show staffers they spoke to “voiced their concerns through HR complaints,” problems at the show “persisted.”)

A Saturday Night Live veteran, Fallon left his post at NBC’s Late Night and began hosting The Tonight Show in 2014. He did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment. However a spokesperson for NBC released the following statement: “We are incredibly proud of The Tonight Show, and providing a respectful working environment is a top priority. 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.”

Vanity Fair has reached out to Jimmy Fallon and The Tonight Show for comment.


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