We start talking about food — what else? — and Jimmy takes out his iPhone so he can show me Instagram photos from a series of mom-and-pop restaurants he stopped at while on a recent tour of NBC network affiliates to thank them for their support. But first the proud dad shows me photos and video of his then-5-month-old daughter, Winnie Rose, with his wife of six years, Nancy Juvonen, whom he met on the set of Fever Pitch. She’s a film producer and co-owner of Flower Films with Drew Barrymore.
I quickly find that food is a recurring theme in conversation with Jimmy. He says that when he was doing comedy tours while a student at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, N.Y., his regular meal was a Diet Coke and salt-and-vinegar potato chips — because it’s all he could afford.
Quite characteristically, he knew he had “made it” when he got an extra $20 at a gig, went across the street to a café that was having a special on pumpkin pancakes and was able to order them. “I ate everything on my plate and extra syrup and it was the best. I’ll never forget it; it just meant a lot to me,” he says.
Something else that means a lot to Jimmy is music. He’s not an avid car collector like Leno, but with a house band like Grammy-winning The Roots on Late Night and praised impersonations of musicians like Eddie Vedder, Neil Young, Bob Dylan and David Bowie, he’s already found his “thing” in music, which has and will continue with his leadership of The Tonight Show.
“Johnny Carson would sing with his guests and dance with people, but it kind of went away. Jay’s not a dancer and singer.”
One of Jimmy’s most notable musical moments was closing the season of SNL this past December with his unofficial co-host, Justin Timberlake, a friend and frequent collaborator. Their chemistry is envied and applauded.
“We became friends years ago at the MTV Video Music Awards,” he says of the 2002 event. “It was the first time he was there as a solo artist, and he was going to come out of a giant boom box and do this big dance move, and I kept making jokes like, ‘I think the batteries died on your boom box.’ It’s the size of the stage and I was like, ‘Does anybody have 300 D batteries?’ ” From there, the two kept in touch and did bits on SNL. “It just clicks with him.”