From San Antonio Catholic Beat:
“I grew up in an Irish Catholic family, and I think they force you to watch every James Cagney movie.”
That was Jimmy Fallon’s first mention of his Catholicism on his recent NPR Fresh Air interview. (He was explaining his first impersonation / impression: James Cagney as a two-year-old.) Later in the interview (listen here), he spoke with host Terri Gross about his Catholic upbringing…
GROSS: So you went to Catholic school when you were young.
Mr. FALLON: Oh yeah.
GROSS: Did you have…
Mr. FALLON: I wanted to be a priest.
GROSS: Did you really?
Mr. FALLON: Yeah. I loved it.
Mr. FALLON: I just, I loved the church. I loved the idea of it. I loved the smell of the incense. I loved the feeling you get when you left church. I loved like how this priest can make people feel this good. I just thought it was – I loved the whole idea of it. My grandfather was very religious, so I used to go to Mass with him at like 6:45 in the morning, serve Mass. And then you made money, too, if you did weddings and funerals. You’d get like five bucks. And so I go ‘Okay, I can make money too.’ I go, ‘This could be a good deal for me.’ I thought I had the calling.
GROSS: Do you think part of that calling was really show business? ‘Cause – like the priest is the performer at church.
Mr. FALLON: Yeah. You know what – I, really Terry, I’m, I recently thought about this. [...] It’s my first experience on stage is as an altar boy. You’re on stage next to the priest, I’m a co-star.
GROSS: ‘Also starring, Jimmy Fallon.’
Mr. FALLON: Yeah, I have no lines but I ring bells. I ring bells and I swing the incense around. And you know, you are performing. You enter through a curtain, you exit through the, I mean you’re backstage. I mean, have you ever seen backstage behind an altar? It’s kind of fascinating.
Mr. FALLON: So I think it was my first taste of show business – or acting or something.
GROSS: And there are comparisons, I think, between a theater and a church. They are just, kind of, places that are separated from outside reality.
Mr. FALLON: Yeah. And I remember I had a hard time keeping a straight face at church as well.
GROSS: Did you?
Mr. FALLON: Which – yeah…
GROSS: Did you do imitations of the priest?
Mr. FALLON: Oh, of course. Yeah. I used to do Father McFadden all the time. He’s the fastest talking priest ever. He’s be like…
Mr. FALLON: And then you leave and you go, ‘What was that?’
Mr. FALLON: That guy’s the best. I mean, that was church? Sign me up! I’ll do church. I’ll do it 10 times a day if that’s church! He was great.
GROSS: Do you still go to church?
Mr. FALLON: I don’t go to – I tried togo back. When I was out in L.A. and I was kind of struggling for a bit. I went to church for a while, but it’s kind of, it’s gotten gigantic now for me. It’s like too… There’s a band. There’s a band there now, and you got to, you have to hold hands with people through the whole Mass now, and I don’t like doing that. You know, I mean, it used to be the shaking hands piece was the only time you touched each other.
Mr. FALLON: Now, I’m holding hand – now I’m lifting people. Like Simba.
Mr. FALLON: I’m holding them (Singing) ha nah hey nah ho.
(Speaking) I’m doing too much. I don’t want – there’s Frisbees being thrown, there’s beach balls going around, people waving lighters, and I go, ‘This is too much for me.’ I want the old way. I want to hang out with the, you know, with the nuns, you know, that was my favorite type of Mass, and the grotto, and just like straight up, just Mass Mass.
Transcript adapted from NPR.org