Jimmy Fallon: The Hudson Valley’s First-Class Clown

Local boy Jimmy Fallon’s high school teachers remember a mischievous, fun-loving star on the rise



Photograph courtesy of NBC/Virginia Sherwood

Picture this: You’re Jimmy Fallon, the Saugerties-raised wunderkind who found fame as a comedian, actor, and all-around goofball. This past January you’re standing onstage at Bananas, the Poughkeepsie comedy club where you got your start almost 20 years ago, ready to dive into your act. You quickly scan the crowd, half-expecting to find the buttoned-up, metropolitan types who populated the audience during your days on Saturday Night Live. But no — there, staring back at you from the front row, are three of your old high school teachers.

For Fallon, this can only mean one thing: payback time.

Rest assured, Don Farris, Bob Lawless, and Mike Miller — who served as vice principal, dean of students, and ninth-grade math teacher, respectively, during Fallon’s time at Saugerties Senior High School — received their proper roasting. Fallon pointed the trio out to the crowd, and forced Farris to sing baritone to his tenor during a routine. The three educators didn’t mind; they were used to it, after all. They just wanted to catch a glimpse of the Class of ’92 grad before his new weeknight show, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, debuts on March 2 and catapults him to even greater celebrity.

Fallon’s homecoming gig served as a welcome reminder to his former instructors of the late-night funnyman’s school days. “He was the class clown, there’s no doubt about it,” Miller says. “He could crack the whole class up in the middle of the lesson.” Equally popular among athletes and artsy types, Fallon was famous for breaking into celebrity impersonations (SNL characters Hanz and Franz were a favorite). “Every day was just full of shenanigans with Jimmy,” says Renee Baker, the school secretary at the time. Baker often found herself on the receiving end of Fallon’s pranks, as he’d answer her phone and speak to the parent on the other end, or race around her desk in an office chair. The faculty members, however, stress that Fallon was no troublemaker. Beyond a detention every now and then (for “piddly stuff,” says Miller), Fallon was a solid student.

Jimmy Fallon with some of his Saugerties High School professors at Bananas Comedy Club
Teachers’ pet (from left): Miller, Lawless, Fallon, Farris, and Lawless’s wife, Debbie, pose for a photo after one of Fallon’s shows at Bananas in January

Photograph courtesy of Bob Lawless

Saugerties High was also the site of one of Fallon’s first gigs: He wrote for and acted in Lip Sync, a student skit show, during his senior year. Onstage, Fallon nailed impressions of Vinnie Barbarino from Welcome Back, Kotter, and both Rocky and Mick from the Rocky movies, much to the delight of the crowd. “The audience just loved him,” says Louise Gallagher, Fallon’s 11th-grade English teacher and the faculty director of the show. Even then, Gallagher could see that Fallon was a bright prospect. “You just knew,” she says. “He just had such a talent.”

Jimmy Fallon's high school yearbook photoJimmy Fallon, this is your life: The comedian’s 1992 senior yearbook photo

Photograph courtesy of Bob Lawless

Other faculty members also had inklings of Fallon’s future success. Farris, who now lives in South Carolina, has held on to some of the college recommendation letters he and his colleagues wrote for students. A few weeks after the show, he found one, written by former principal Robert Potter, about one James Fallon. “James has creative skills, and would be especially strong in the communications area,” the letter read. Then, a few sentences later: “He functions well in front of large crowds.”

After receiving a ribbing from Fallon at Bananas, Farris, Lawless, and Miller went backstage, where they reminisced and nabbed a photo with their former student. The snapshot now sits in their offices — yet another reminder of the reversal of the teacher-pupil role. Not that teaching a future star doesn’t have its benefits. “My kids really think I am somebody, which couldn’t be further from the truth,” Lawless says. “But I let them think it.”

 

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