‘The energy is here.’ Jimmy Fallon gives a behind-the-scenes look at the ‘Tonight Show’ taping at UT Austin


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Jimmy Fallon settled into a director’s folding chair on a fourth-floor terrace outside the office of the President of the University of Texas at Austin, under the shadow of the UT Tower.

“Welcome to Austin, Texas,” said KXAN’s Sally Hernandez, sitting in a twin chair beside him.

Ahead of his first-ever taping of the “Tonight Show” on a college campus, Fallon told Hernandez he enjoyed getting out of his “little bubble” in New York, meeting fans here in Austin and trying a little two-step. He said people have been unbelievably friendly and helpful, whether with offering directions to places or advice on the best barbecue to try.

  • Watch a special UT Austin episode of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” tonight after KXAN News at 10 p.m.

“It’s the energy, the energy is here. I mean, the energy in New York City is unbelievable,” Fallon said. “The energy at UT is … I can’t even talk about. The last couple of days we were here, the students have been like running down the streets. You feel like The Beatles.”

Suddenly, the UT Tower bells began to chime.

“Sorry, that’s my phone,” Fallon joked, reaching into his pocket. “I’m getting a text.”

“Oh, who is it? Who’s texting you today?” Hernandez prodded over the reverberating notes. Fallon glanced up cooly.

“It’s the Queen of England,” he said, before bursting into laughter a milisecond later.

Fallon said much of the “Tonight Show” audience is college students — “We are the number one show for 18-year-olds watching late night,” he said — and UT Austin was at the top of the show’s list when they started thinking about doing a show on a college campus.

Select fortunate students will head to a nearly unrecognizable Bass Concert Hall Thursday evening, while Fallon tapes an episode on the custom-built set brought in all the way from New York.

More than one hundred people worked over the past week to transform the performance space that’s normally home to plays and musical performances. A giant, 30,000-pound video screen now stretches the entire length of the stage, and more than 2 miles of cable snakes through the space just for the audio equipment. The show’s band, The Roots, have a shiny burnt-orange drum set in a nod to the Longhorns.

Fallon has been appearing around UT’s campus all week taping segments ahead of the show in front of an all-student audience.

“It is a par-tay in this place, oh my gosh,” Fallon said. “Man, it’s dangerous, but we are having fun. Everyone has been so welcoming to us — so nice to us. I think we chose the right place to take the show on the road.”

Back in October, current UT Austin students entered a lottery to win tickets to the taping, and about 2,500 are expected to pack the seats Thursday. Those who didn’t get in, and the general public, can still watch the show on KXAN after the 10 p.m. news as it kicks off with a musical opening that Fallon said would be “a love letter to Austin and to Texas in general.”

The show is chock-full of Texas luminaries, including former “Fixer-Upper” stars and prolific Waco business owners Chip and Joanna Gaines and UT professor and actor Matthew McConaughey.

“Do you have your impression nailed, though?” Hernandez asked Fallon.

“Oh well … alright, alright, alright,” Fallon drawled. “He’s just very kind of … takes his time … explaining … different … things.”

Atlanta-based rapper Gucci Mane is the night’s musical guest, and Fallon assured he would “knock the roof off this place.”

With Austin as the live music capital of the world, Fallon didn’t rule out a surprise show from the Roots, saying it “might happen.”

“We go around and we are on the same text message, so we say ‘Where you at, great, I’ll see you over there,’ and then we drop on stage and do something,” Fallon said. “We have nothing planned, but that’s the way we work — we pop up and the next thing you know we are on stage singing. But it can definitely happen. Oh my gosh, Sixth Street.”

This isn’t the first time Fallon has been to Texas. He and his wife, Nancy, have two daughters who were born in the state via a surrogate.

“You know, they’re being raised in New York, but there is Texas in them,” Fallon said. “You can tell. And don’t mess with Texas. We know that.”

Fallon said what he’s enjoyed so far about being in Austin is exploring, going out to hear good music and seeing people enjoying the city.

“That’s what life is all about, and that’s why we get out of our bubble and get out of our studio in New York and come to Texas and come to Austin and just to see our fans and say thank you for watching our show, and show me a little bit of your life and I’m loving it so far,” Fallon said. “I may never leave.”

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