With just over four months to go before Jay Leno steps down, the publicity train is rolling full steam ahead for the new host of “The Tonight Show.”
Jimmy Fallon visited Tampa Wednesday as part of a whirlwind tour of NBC affiliates to promote his February takeover of the hosting reins from Leno, and to perform as part of his “Clean Cut Comedy Tour” at Tampa Theatre.
After stops in Nashville, St. Louis and Atlanta earlier this week, Fallon spent the afternoon at WFLA-TV in Tampa where he was meeting and greeting and recording promos for the station. He also filmed multiple segments for “Daytime” that will air Monday on Channel 8.
Finding a few minutes of quiet in WFLA green room, Fallon explained that when he took the gig as host of “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” four years ago, he made sure he paid respect to Leno, just in case.
“I called him up and said 'Hey I just wanna let you know I am not gunning for your job. I'm I don't care if I stay at 12:37 for the rest of my life, but when you're ready to step down, call me and we'll do this the right way',” Fallon said, shortly after he'd finished taking a “virtual tour” of Tampa live on the station's 4 p.m. news broadcast. “One day I'm in my office and I get a call from Jay Leno and he says 'Alright buddy, we're gonna do this.”
As for what will change when Fallon takes over, he says not much. The Roots will still be the house band, Steve Higgins will remain the announcer, and the show will continue to put a premium on its musical guests, as evidenced by new acoustics on the set that Fallon says will make it “the best sounding show on TV.”
“We're looking at it as it's going to be the same show, new furniture,” Fallon said.
One thing that is changing is the location. “The Tonight Show” will move from its longtime home in Burbank, Calif. to New York, where Fallon currently hosts “Late Night.”
“I never considered moving out there, not for a minute,” Fallon said. “30 Rock is the absolute best place to work. You have 'Saturday Night Live' right above you, so those guys are stopping by. You see Bill Clinton walking down the hall, and then you see a camel. It's that weird, it's that creative, and that's the way you want it to be when you're working on a show like this.”
Later at Tampa Theatre, 1,400 Tampa fans got a fresh dose of the host's goofball humor and uncanny musical mimicry anyway during the “Clear Cut Comedy Tour” stop.
Strumming an acoustic guitar and playing harmonica, Fallon brought one of “Late Night's” most popular bits to the stage, impersonating Neil Young singing the theme from “Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”
"Now this is a story all about how ...," Fallon sang in a spot-on high-pitched Young voice, before the sellout crowd erupted.
Fallon played the MC role at the comedy show, performing briefly between introducing three stand-ups who are working clean throughout the tour.
They didn't hold back from getting laughs from poking fun at Tampa.
“I'll be performing at Mons Venus after this,” comic Seth Herzog said after stripping down to a skimpy Wonder Woman leotard. “I love how casual strip clubs are here in Tampa. They're not weird or taboo, they're just the place where everyone's mom works.”
Julian McCullough found humor in the historic theater.
“Wow, it's beautiful.This place is all hand painted, but it's chipped everywhere. You can tell something violent happened here, so there's a lot of Florida history here,” he said.