This year, Jimmy Fallon marks five years as the host of Tonight’s show, arguably the most coveted regular hosting concert on the planet. He and his team celebrated the milestone with some of the show’s most ambitious episodes, episodes that mean a lot to the comedian personally. In February, on the show’s fifth anniversary, Fallon paid homage to one of his own comedic inspirations, Garry Shandling, by surprising viewers with a mock behind-the-scenes documentary episode, at the The Larry Sanders Show. (A BTS moment in which he yells at teenage animal expert Bob Irwin, son of Steve, is golden.) In January, he kicked off the year by taking a team to Puerto Rico and filming an episode on the island, which still operates in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Fallon Says He Was Inspired By Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Directing Hamilton in San Juan, and during a recent Q&A at the Writers’ Guild of America, described her Puerto Rico episode as “one of my proudest moments of anything we’ve ever done in a show I’ve never been to ”.
Those who first saw Fallon when he was part of the Saturday Night Live cast during some of the show’s best years – he crossed paths with Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, Tracy Morgan – probably wouldn’t be surprised to see the comedian now thrive late into the night. He stood out at the time because he was fast, armed with a flotilla of impressions, and, as a bonus, could sing. Today he puts those skills to work every night on Tonight’s show. Fallon says he developed these skills by watching and learning from comedy greats. As he prepares to wrap up his fifth year and return for a sixth, seventh and eighth – he’s under contract until at least 2021 – Fallon sat down with Rotten Tomatoes to pay tribute to some of those legends with this list of his five favorite comedy movies of all time. (Note that he was quick to warn that he has so much more than five.)
My favorite comedy growing up, and something that really influenced me, was Pee-wee’s great adventure, directed by Tim Burton. I love this movie because Paul Reubens is just awesome; [he] play this character Pee-wee Herman, and the creativity that is put into that movie, it was like, what else can you add to make this movie [funnier]? Just the foreground of his waking up, and there’s like a Rube Goldberg contraption about how he makes toast and breakfast in the morning; he drops a ping-pong ball, it hits a candle that lights up and burns a rope that breaks and swings a hammer… It was so creative. I remember I was a kid, I watched this movie probably 300 times. I memorized it. I used to do the voice; I had to stop doing it.
It’s a film, for me, about how far can one dream. Someone steals his bike, and he tries to get his bike back, and through this adventure he ends up telling his story to a film studio, which makes his adventure a feature film at the end. It’s just great that he thought about this movie and wrote it, with Phil Hartman who was one of my favorites from Saturday Night Live. It’s for kids, but it’s for adults. He’s just such a good actor in this movie – Paul Reubens should have gotten an Oscar for that.
Animal house is a classic. You should have a copy on DVD, you should stream it, you should just still have it. You should get the celluloid and play it in your garden. It is brilliantly written, based on a National Lampoon article on college life. Personally, I love John Belushi. I love the cast because everyone looks like they’re probably 50 to be honest, and yet they’re in college. (Back then, that’s how it worked: Fat John Travolta had, so you say to yourself, really, does he look like a high school student?) But everyone was perfectly integrated [Animal House]. There are so many subtle jokes. It makes you applaud. You see a young Kevin Bacon, [he] made an appearance. There is good music. There are so many quotable lines, and it’s definitely a must-see comedy for me.
Bridesmaids: If you haven’t seen it yet, you probably don’t live on Earth. But if you live on Earth and haven’t seen it, you should check it out. This is one of the more modern comedy picks that I have chosen, because if you want to see a genius comedy – I mean genius, brilliant comedy – Kristen Wiig is just going to teach you a lesson and show you how to be funny. She’s amazing in this movie. The story is relatable. If you didn’t think Kristen could be funnier, then get ready for Melissa McCarthy as she hits you over the head with a comedy cinder block. It’s incredibly well written, well done, well directed… one of my favorites.
It was a spoof of those airport movies that were big in the ’70s. When you look at there are so many quoteable scenes, but one is. [where] there’s a little boy coming up to the cockpit of the plane, and Peter Graves is the pilot, and he’s like, “Have you ever been in a cockpit before, Joey?” And he said, “No sir, I’ve never taken a plane before. He said, “Have you ever seen a naked adult man?” And the kid acts perfectly, acts like he hasn’t heard what he’s said, really, and then the questions get crazier. He said to me, “Joey, have you ever been to a Turkish prison?” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the co-pilot. It’s so well done. There are so many jokes – it’s full of jokes. You will never forget Airplane!; [it’s] one of the best comedies I have ever seen in my life.
It’s a comedy for you movie nerds (but that’s probably why you’re on Rotten Tomatoes anyway, because you’re a movie nerd). This movie is called American movie, and it’s a documentary comedy. Dude, oh man, I remember seeing that movie with Horatio Sanz: we were at the theater, and we were crying so much from laughing, hugging and punching each other because we were laughing so hard. It’s the story of a man who tries to make a horror movie. He calls him Cove–Fr, and he’s a coven, but he doesn’t like the way “coven” rhymes with “oven”, that doesn’t make sense, so he calls him, mispronounces his movie title and call her Cove-Fr.
He’s trying to get his dad to play in the movie, and his dad says, “You have something to live on. Jesus told me. And he said to me, “Okay, daddy, do it again, but your teeth are falling out.” And he said, “Cole, you have something to live on.” Jesus told me. And he says, “Damn, I hear his teeth chattering in the audio, it’s unusable.” I mean it’s tears funny.
He takes a dentist, a local dentist [who] wants to be an actor, and he sticks his head in a cupboard he was supposed to have marked so that it comes off easily, but he forgets to mark the wood so he actually sticks a human’s head into a wooden cabinet . [The man] shouts, and he thrusts that poor man’s head into the thing. So cut, and the guy holds his head. He’s like, “Oh, my God.” He’s like “Uh, man, I’m sorry, I forgot to cut this board.”
It is one of the best movies I have ever seen. It will make you cry with laughter. If you like cinema, you will appreciate it. The two guys, the two stars of the film, are real stars.
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READ: 140 essential comedy movies to watch right now
Tonight’s Show with Jimmy Fallon airs weekday evenings on NBC