In a Rolling Stone exclusive, sixteen current and former staff from “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” expressed a broad, long-term toxic culture studded with erratic behavior from Jimmy Fallon, microaggressions from senior showrunners, and retaliation including job loss against employees when they expressed their concerns to Human Resources. The allegations present questions about the future of the show, as well as the Universal Studios Florida ride Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon.
Note: This article contains quotations from former employees about sensitive topics that are presented intact. Some contain adult language. Reader discretion is advised.
Jimmy Fallon’s Erratic Behavior
In Rolling Stone’s exclusive, Krystie Lee Yandoli reports that the working environment began at the top with Fallon’s erratic behavior and trickled down to all corners of “The Tonight Show” staff; two current staff and fourteen former staff said that Fallon’s outbursts and unexpected, inconsistent behavior led to a challenging working environment.
All current and former staff requested anonymity with Rolling Stone.
“It’s a bummer because it was my dream job,” one former employee says. “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’s behavior was at times more even-keeled, but there was no predictability as to when Fallon would be having a bad day. On those days, he would snap at staff, and many people feared for their jobs. Three former “Tonight Show” employees said that Fallon has berated and belittled them in front of their peers and colleagues.
Staffers reported that Fallon’s behavior didn’t happen in a vacuum and that his inconsistent mood and unpredictability funneled through the show’s producers.
“The producers felt this pressure, and that translated down to all of their employees. People that worked under them then felt this pressure that if you made one mistake, you were gone and would be easily replaced,” one former employee said. “You have all these NBC pages in the building who are ready, willing, and waiting to take your job.”
Another former “Tonight Show” staffer said, “Sometimes we would get nice Jimmy, but that sometimes was not a lot. It was just really, really sad to me that this really talented man created such a horrible environment for the people there.”
Tonight Show Staff Report Toxic Work Conditions
The high turnover in daily show industries is especially glaring at “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” with the show’s ever-changing staff reaching all the way to the top: the show has had nine showrunners in the past nine years.
“Nobody told Jimmy, ‘No.’ Everybody walked on eggshells, especially showrunners,” another former employee said. “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 amount of change “The Tonight Show” experienced is unusual, especially at this senior leadership level. The nine showrunners included:
- Josh Leib (2014-2016)
- Mike DiCenzo, Gerard Bradford, and Katie Hockmeyer (2016-2018)
- Jim Bell (2018-2019)
- Gavin Purcell (2019-2020)
- Jamie Granet-Bederman and Nedaa Sweiss (2020-2022)
- Chris Miller (2022-present)
Mike DiCenzo makes a cameo appearance in Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, which was created when he was one of the showrunners.
Among other challenges with several showrunners, five staff members reported feeling bullied and belittled by Granet-Bederman and spoke about how she created her own toxic environment for the people under her.
One employee stated that they lost nearly 20 pounds while working for Granet-Bederman at “The Tonight Show” and cried themselves to sleep each night.
“I know other people who were in [my] department who also were unhappy with [mis]treatment but it was never a thing where any of us were empowered enough to say anything,” this employee said. “It just always felt like, ‘You should be grateful that you have a job, and you should be grateful that you have this position at this show, at this network. Everyone wants to be in this spot. You have worked hard to get here — it shouldn’t be a thing where you’re being ungrateful.’”
In addition, a Black former employee said that Granet-Bederman repeatedly asked them, “What is going on with your hair?” That same employee reported seeing Granet-Bederman ridicule staff and comment on their weight, saying, “We’re just eating a lot today and not caring about what we look like?” Two other staff members also reported mistreatment from Sweiss, saying that she bullied, intimidated, and yelled at them.
“They are the worst bosses I’ve ever had in my life. They use that position of power to bully and treat the staff that way, and the network is aware of how they treat people. They not only continue to enable it, but they reward it.”
Retaliation after Human Resources Complaints
Five former employees said that they attempted to speak to Human Resources about their concerns, but were subsequently fired from their positions at “The Tonight Show,” or sought other employment when that seemed imminent. One employee expressed sadness and frustration to Rolling Stone, stating that they were blindsided by being fired. They had come to work for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” after working on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”; they had reportedly never received any negative performance evaluations and were suddenly fired.
“I ended up talking to the HR person later on the phone, and she was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve never seen anything like this.’ She was like, ‘I don’t know why you’re being let go. You didn’t do anything wrong.… I’ve never seen somebody get fired for no reason.'”
Neither Granet-Bederman nor Sweiss responded to multiple requests from Rolling Stone for comment.
Following the Rolling Stone article’s publication, Fallon issued an apology in a “Tonight Show” all-staff Zoom call. Two employees on the call reported that Fallon said, “It’s embarrassing and I feel so bad. Sorry if I embarrassed you and your family and friends… I feel so bad I can’t even tell you.” Neither Fallon nor anyone on his team responded to Rolling Stone’s requests for comments.
Former staff want to see changes take place at “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” and for NBC and Fallon to be held accountable.
“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. 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.”
Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon
Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon is a 3D motion-simulator ride in the New York section of Universal Studios Florida. It’s the first ride based on a late-night talk show and opened on April 6, 2017, replacing Twister…Ride it Out, which closed permanently on November 1, 2015.
Fallon originally pitched the ride to then President of Universal Creative, now CEO of Universal Destinations & Experiences, Mark Woodbury during his tenure on “Late Night.” When “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” proved successful, Woodbury reached back out.
The attraction’s façade and interior queue resemble 30 Rockefeller Plaza and NBC Studios. There are props and sets representing former “Tonight Show” hosts. Guests are given a ticket by a Team Member dressed as an NBC page.
In a waiting area, a screen shows clips from “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and sometimes The Ragtime Gals perform (see the video below) on a replica of the “Tonight Show” stage. Guests can also interact with various elements and meet Hashtag the Panda in this area.
Guests are invited into Studio 6B once the color of their ticket is called. They watch a pre-show featuring Fallon, The Roots, and some of Fallon’s characters. Guests then enter the studio and Fallon re-enters on-screen driving “The Tonight Rider.” The race kicks off, with guest seats moving and bumping along with the on-screen action. They encounter various characters from “The Tonight Show,” like Sara, Gary, The Ragtime Gals, and Hashtag the Panda. There are references to “Jaws” and “King Kong.”
Dynamic Motion Rides, a.k.a. DyMoRides, developed the attraction’s ride system based on their own patented technology. After a series of conflicts, including Universal Creative eventually hiring Peterson Inc. to build the ride’s mechanical parts, DyMoRides filed a lawsuit in 2021 against Universal for operating its IP without a license. They settled for unknown terms in April 2023.
The ride has received mid-level reviews. It’s not a thrill ride, which many visit Universal Orlando Resort for, but it’s not a kids’ ride either — it’s appropriate for most families. There is a minimum height requirement of 40″ (102 cm). The technology used was not particularly groundbreaking compared to other Universal experiences. The attraction frequently has a low wait time.
Race Through New York is one of Universal Orlando Resort’s newest rides, and doesn’t receive as much flack as Fast & Furious: Supercharged for example, but it likely wouldn’t be missed if Universal decided to get rid of it. If “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” were to come to an end soon, Race Through New York would also be instantly dated, and we wouldn’t be surprised if Universal already has plans for what would replace it.
In 2021, NBC renewed “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” through 2026, but the show is not currently in production due to the ongoing WGA strike. In August 2023, Fallon teamed up with fellow late-night hosts Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, and John Oliver to host the podcast “Strike Force Five” with proceeds going to their show staff during the strikes.