Jimmy Fallon’s Advice: “It’s Good to Be Scared”

August 18, 2016

For aspiring comedians, the thought of bombing in front of an audience can be enough to stop them from pursuing their dreams altogether. In this web exclusive of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy gives advice to comedians beginning their journey in stand-up comedy, and specifically addressing how to move forward after a failed joke or performance.

When an anonymous fan writes to ask him what he was afraid of before or during his first stand-up show and early career, Fallon responds:

“When you first start out bombing, you’re afraid of bombing onstage, and not being funny onstage. But if you look back on it, and that’s the whole fun of it, it’s just getting the nerve out there to just go up there and do your act. And the more you do it, the more you will bomb, the more comfortable you get at doing stand-up. And then, sometimes I’m not kidding, you look forward to bombing because it’s just something different, and it’s like, ‘How do I dig myself out of this hole?'”

Fallon shares one example of when he found himself unable to move beyond a failed joke. “I did one once in the Catskills at some resort,” he recalls. “Some dude got up to go the bathroom or something. And I made fun of him, I don’t know what the joke was, I was trying to work the crowd. And I was like, ‘All nerds: Report to the bathroom’ or something bad like that.” The unamused and intimidatingly large audience member stood confrontationally before Fallon and asked him, “What?” People were booing before Jimmy was reminded to continue telling jokes. Reliving that painfully awkward moment and rubbing his face, Jimmy admits, “I just couldn’t get out of it.”

Keep in mind, comedy was everything to the aspiring comic. He was obsessed with becoming a cast member of Saturday Night Live since he began watching the late night comedy show during his teen years. He once described the singularity of his career ambitions this way:

“This was my ultimate goal. If I ever cut into a birthday cake and made a wish, I would wish to be on SNL. If I threw a coin into a fountain, I would wish to be on SNL. If I saw a shooting star, I would wish to be on SNL….I had no other plan. I didn’t have friends, I didn’t have a girlfriend, I didn’t have anything going on. I had my career, that was it.”

Fortunately, all the times he performed comedy in various shows and contests during his teen and college years gave him plenty of experience with success and failure onstage. Eventually, he dropped out of college and moved to Los Angeles. Once there, he performed stand-up at The Improv, and joined classes with The Groundlings.

As luck would have it, in his early twenties, he was given the opportunity to audition for the Holy Grail: Saturday Night Live. However, much to his heartbreak, they passed on the young talent. But alas, he was given a second chance to audition for the show. This time he passed with flying colors. In fact, he even managed to make the notoriously straight-faced creator of the show, Lorne Michaels, laugh aloud. In 1998, Fallon fulfilled that SNL dream, and remained a cast member till 2004. Of course, he continues to have a prolific career as a comedian, television host, actor, singer, writer, and producer to this day.

Addressing the fear of bombing onstage, Fallon says, “I bombed so many times.” But he concludes, “Don’t be afraid to be afraid. Eventually you look back and you’re like, ‘Oh, I remember when I used to be scared of those things.’ And it’ll help you get strong.”