Pop Culture

Jimmy Fallon's promise to Jay Leno: 'Whenever he wants, he's got a stage'

When Jay Leno on Friday cedes his 22-year reign as host of "The Tonight Show" to "Late Night's" Jimmy Fallon (who moves in on Feb. 17), a new chapter in late-night television officially begins. But before the baton is officially passed, the two are recalling what it was like to learn of the changes, and in Leno's case, a most memorable moment from "The Tonight Show."

"I remember when I got the phone call," said Leno, who with Fallon spoke with TODAY's Matt Lauer in the second part of an exclusive interview that aired Wednesday (Part One can be seen here). "It was a pretty big moment in my life. It was amazing."

As for Fallon, "I remember they were gonna release a press release at 12 noon or something New York Time. We're having our monologue meeting or something with the writers, we're sitting there and I'm just looking at the clock. It hits 12 o'clock noon and everyone's phones started buzzing. It was exciting."

To say the least. As the exiting king, Leno may have always known it was a great job, but there was one moment that crystallized just how terrific it is to host "Tonight."

"When Barack Obama came on," he said. "Having the actual President of the United States on the show, that was pretty amazing."

Fallon may have already gotten an inkling of that feeling, thanks to a comment from comedian Jerry Seinfeld. "Seinfeld came up to me at a party and we were talking about this," he said, and added that Seinfeld told him, "You're doing a Pope job. You got this forever. Do you realize that? Is that what you want?"

Almost certainly, Fallon told him yes. As he noted, "I'm just looking forward to the next chapter in my life." And, he added, he's not keeping Leno at arm's length ... not exactly. "I told Jay, I gave him a round trip ticket to New York — coach, because he's humble — and he can always upgrade if he wants to. Honestly, as many jokes as he wants. The stage is his. He knows that. So whenever he wants, he's got a stage."