Jimmy Fallon is addressing the discourse surrounding his show being a "toxic workplace," and he's going straight to the source: His staff.
Two current "Tonight Show" staff members and 14 former employees were part of a Rolling Stone report published Thursday alleging the late-night host's years of "erratic behavior" had created a workplace its employees feared.
In a virtual meeting with staffers later Thursday, two employees said the host apologized for unintentionally creating the environment described in the article.
"It's embarrassing and I feel so bad," he told staffers, according to Variety. "Sorry if I embarrassed you and your family and friends. I feel so bad I can't even tell you. I want this show to be fun. It should be inclusive for everybody. It should be funny. It should be the best show, the best people."
The Rolling Stone report detailed the "ugly environment" at Fallon's NBC show. This starts with Fallon himself and his "unexpected, inconsistent behavior" and "outbursts" and trickles into ever-changing leadership teams, with staffers losing faith that the show's nine different showrunners in the past nine years could change anything — if they weren't also bullying staffers themselves.
Employees interviewed for the report said they witnessed Fallon snap at, berate and belittle staffers "over the smallest of things," with employees having phrases to tell each other if the host was having a good or bad day. This erratic moodiness led to "widespread fear" at work, the report said, with employees not knowing how their interactions with Fallon would go any certain day.
Half of the former employees interviewed for the report said their mental health was affected by their time at the show. They told Rolling Stone they would refer to guests' dressing rooms as "crying rooms," as they would go there to release emotions from the alleged mistreatment.
Some staffers said these mental health effects manifested into nightmares, while others saw physical effects like thinning hair or weight loss due to stress. Four interviewees said they are in therapy and three said they experienced suicidal ideation because of their experiences.
The article says many staffers voiced their concerns to HR, but the problems continued. One employee said they never reported their issues after seeing colleagues get fired after speaking to HR about their issues.
In a statement following the report, NBC acknowledged any employee issues had been investigated and acted upon if necessary, though it didn't mention the host himself.
"We are incredibly proud of 'The Tonight Show,' and providing a respectful working environment is a top priority," the statement read. "As in any workplace, we have had employees raise issues; those have been investigated, and action has been taken where appropriate."
And the current showrunner, who Fallon said in the virtual meeting "isn't going anywhere" according to Variety, told staffers in an email following the article's publishing that he doesn't believe the reporting is reflective of the show's true environment.
"While I know the reporter reached out to many of you before the piece ran, I don’t believe what's written is reflective of the overall culture of our extraordinary team that I'm so lucky and proud to work with every day," the statement read, according to The New York Times. "The place described in the article is not the place I know. Still, it's disappointing to see something published that does not capture the positive and inclusive environment I believe we have created together."
"The Tonight Show" hasn't aired a new episode in more than four months due to the ongoing writers' strike, leaving it in limbo until the Writers Guild of America and Hollywood studios can settle on a deal.
Fallon himself and NBC had reportedly paid "Tonight Show" staffers' salaries for three weeks after the strike began. Then employees were put on an unpaid leave of absence.
However, Fallon and other late-night hosts — including Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers and John Oliver — started a podcast last week called "Strike Force Five," and all its proceeds will be given to their unemployed staff members.
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