Jimmy Fallon is probably the jolliest host in late night, but there was a lot of hurt behind his smile last night: Yesterday’s episode of The Tonight Show was Fallon’s first since his mother passed away, and in his return to TV, Fallon put on a memorable show. He talked about his mother Gloria in a brief and touching tribute, then did the usual late night stuff, and later in the episode, Taylor Swift gave a surprise performance of her Reputation track “New Year’s Day.”
The performance itself was moving, but it turns out that there was more going on than was immediately obvious. Tonight Show writer and producer Mike DiCenzo (who is perhaps most recognizable as his character Mets Bucket Hat Guy) took to Twitter and shared some words about how emotional Swift’s performance really was thanks to a strange coincidence.
DiCenzo wrote that Taylor agreed to perform on short notice “with zero hesitation” to make Fallon’s return special, and when she got to a certain lyric in “New Year’s Day,” everybody in the room realized the connection between the song and the story Fallon told about his mother earlier. During his tribute, Fallon talked about how his mother would squeeze his hand three times to tell him that he loved him, which is eerily similar to a lyric from the “New Year’s Day.”
“Suddenly she sings the line, ‘Squeeze my hand three times in the back of the taxi.'” DiCenzo wrote. “I nearly gasped. Tears. I think everyone in the audience started sobbing. I could see Jimmy silhouetted at his desk dabbing his eyes with a tissue. We all lost it. It was a beautiful coincidence in a beautiful performance.”
Elsewhere, there was one easter egg in the broadcast that served as a subtle and sweet tribute to Gloria Fallon, as DiCenzo wrote, “One last note: our show was right on time today, but we edited out a minute to leave room for Jimmy high-fiving audience members during the end credits. It was Gloria’s favorite part of the show.”
Watch Fallon’s tribute to his mother and Swift’s performance above, and read DiCenzo’s story below.
“A few words (i.e. a thread) about tonight’s show. It was our first show back after Jimmy’s mom passed away… It was a really tough day for our whole staff. A lot of us knew his mom Gloria, and she was the best. The best. She loved the show, she loved all of us, and most of all, she loved Jimmy. They talked on the phone every day. As Jimmy said, she was his biggest fan. […]
The story about his mom squeezing his hand 3 times to say ‘I love you’ when he was a kid, and then him squeezing her hand in the hospital — he hadn’t told any of us that story… More on that in a second. First, a quick word about Taylor Swift. She was not scheduled to do our show today. But we wanted something special for this first show back, so we asked her on a complete whim, since she had been in town doing SNL. She said yes with zero hesitation.
She sang ‘New Year’s Day.’ No one had heard it. Suddenly she sings the line, ‘Squeeze my hand 3 times in the back of the taxi.’ I nearly gasped. Tears. I think everyone in the audience started sobbing. I could see Jimmy silhouetted at his desk dabbing his eyes with a tissue. We all lost it. It was a beautiful coincidence in a beautiful performance. ‘Hold on to your memories, they will hold on to you,’ Taylor sang.
That hug between Jimmy and Taylor after the song was 100% real emotion. Whatever you think of Taylor, she did something beautiful for Jimmy and our show today, and we’re forever grateful.”