Pittsburgh native Anthony Jeselnik is a stand-up comedian who was hired on as one of the first joke writers for "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon
." It's his first experience writing for a talk show, though he created material for Jimmy Kimmel on the American Music Awards and ESPYs. Jeselnik also wrote for Sarah Silverman when she hosted the Video Music Awards and the MTV Movie Awards.
For Silverman, Jeselnik wrote this joke: "Jack Nicholson is amazing. You don't even understand, Jack. You have been in every single one of my favorite actresses." Nicholson liked it so much, he sent Silverman flowers. So in a way, Anthony got flowers from Jack Nicholson. Unless, of course, Jack was just trying to bed Silverman.
Now that Jeselnik is working for "Fallon," he writes between 25 and 30 topical jokes for Jimmy's opening monologue at 11 p.m. the night prior to every taping. This routine comes after Jeselnik does his own nightly stand-up set at one of a handful of New York comedy clubs. "I try to write 10 to 15 jokes that night ... unless I'm drunk," says Jeselnik.
Learn all about a "Late Night" writer's daily routine, including how it's impacted when the ShamWom Guy punches a hooker, after the jump.
Arriving at Rockefeller Center, Jeselnik gets straight to work. While he shares his office with two other monologue writers, they don't talk much in the morning. They're all in their heads. It doesn't matter how good the jokes were the day before, they have to do it again today. "We've all proven ourselves at one point or another. I like it because every day is a new chance, but it can be super-stressful every day," says Jeselnik. "It's like a baseball player. You'll go into a slump, then suddenly hit a grand slam."
All of the monologue writers begin looking at jokes that other staff members have emailed. The production assistants, writer assistants, bloggers and other writers have the opportunity to send in punches for consideration. He'll put an X by the ones he thinks Jimmy should see. It was around this time one day Anthony learned he would be the first person ever to do a stand-up set on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon."
"I did the show because that night's show was running five minutes short and John Mulaney (another emerging young comic) said no," admits Jeselnik. "I still had to do all my regular monologue duties, ran downstairs to have wardrobe give me clothes, and pretty much just walked out on stage."
Luckily, Anthony knew the drill. He had already done sets on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," "Jimmy Kimmel Live," and his own half-hour special on Comedy Central.
At this point, all jokes have to be emailed to head monologue writer and veteran comedian Wayne Federman. This is when the writers have a chance to grab a quick lunch.
Federman emails back the jokes he likes. Of his initial 25 to 30, Jeselnik hopes the list is around 10. He can also send back RPs (re-pitches). Those are jokes the writer believes deserve a second chance. Sometimes it works and they're included in the list that goes to Jimmy Fallon. 2 p.m.
Federman, producer Mike Shoemaker (an SNL alum) and a writer's assistant will meet with Fallon to pitch the jokes. "It takes about 20 minutes for them to decide on which jokes they'll do in rehearsal," he said. "If they pick 10 jokes, that's good. Fifteen is great. Twenty jokes, which never happens, and we could just take a nap. We'd be set."
If it's fewer then 10, they have to get back to work. 3 p.m.
Jimmy Fallon begins running through the sketches and any bits he'll do with his house band, The Roots, for that night. 3:40 p.m.
It's time for Jeselnik's least favorite part of the job, the monologue rehearsal. The Roots leave, so they hear the jokes for the first time during the show and give a fresh reaction. "Whatever tour group happens to be getting a tour of Rockefeller Center gets pulled into the studio. It's insanely random," he sighed." It can be 40 Canadians or 20 12-year-olds. Jimmy delivers the jokes and based on their reaction he decides if it goes into the show."
The monologue writers sit in the back and watch their jokes slaughter or be slaughtered. There's nothing that they can do about it at that point. "One time I did yell out loud, 'What are you awing at?' But it didn't do any good." 4 p.m.
Depending on how the jokes fare in rehearsal, Fallon picks that night's monologue set. The writers now meet in Anthony's office to re-write the wording of each setup and punch line. By 4:30, they need to have 8-10 jokes to the cue card guy so he can write them in time for the taping.
"However, one day someone ran in at 4:45 and said, "The ShamWow Guy just fought a prostitute." So we had to bang out eight quick jokes on that," he said. 5 p.m.
The show begins taping. The monologue writers stick around through the opening, just to make sure Fallon doesn't need their input. Anthony then works out, eats and makes his way to whichever comedy club he's performing at that night. After that, the process begins again.
"This is my dream job. It's the reason I got into stand-up comedy. However, I didn't expect it would turn me into this machine that knows what Miley Cyrus is up to," he laughs.
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