The last time Jimmy Fallon and Questlove reminisced about Prince on The Tonight Show, the mood was very different than it was Monday.
It was last February, the night after Saturday Night Live’s 40th anniversary special, and Fallon was still feeling a bit hungover.
The host shared with his audience a story about the previous night’s after party, when he told the star-studded crowd, “Prince, if you’re here, I dare you to come up on stage.”
“All of a sudden, the crowd parts and there’s purple smoke and the dude, just floating towards the stage,” Fallon explained. When Prince arrived on stage, guitar in hand, he said the words “Dearly inebriated” into the mic and proceeded to play “Let’s Go Crazy.” As Fallon said last year, “It was one of the best nights of my life.”
Now Prince is gone. Introducing an SNL tribute special over the weekend, a far more somber Fallon said, “Other people may have been on the show more times, or performed more frequently, but there was something different about a Prince performance. It was special. It was an event. It was Prince.”
“Times have changed, styles have come and gone,” he added, “but no matter what, Prince has never not been cool."
The tribute continued Monday night, when Fallon, wearing a purple tie, returned to The Tonight Show after a week off and traded stories with The Roots’ Questlove about their memories of the artist. “Prince is one of these guys—he’s an icon, he's legendary, he’s very mysterious. Like, so much mystique around him,” Fallon said. “There are these famous stories that you hear that you don’t think are real, but they’re real.”
First, the host talked about how Chris Rock was the one who first told him he had to see Prince live. When Fallon finally went to see him at Madison Square Garden a few weeks back, Prince requested that both Fallon and Questlove go up on stage at the end of the show. But while Questlove got to play the drums, Fallon just had to dance awkwardly by himself.
Later, after Prince had performed on The Tonight Show, he challenged Fallon to a game of ping-pong at Susan Sarandon’s club SPiN. The story that followed rivals Charlie Murphy’s basketball and pancakes story, which became a legendary sketch on Chappelle’s Show.
“I open the curtain, and Prince is standing there with a double-breasted crushed blue velvet suit, holding a ping-pong paddle,” Fallon remembered, breaking into his impression of the musician. “And he goes, ‘You ready to do this?’” Following a brief warm-up, Prince proceeded to beat Fallon soundly, 21-10. Then, after Prince nailed game point, Fallon bent down to pick up the ball, and when he came back up, his opponent had vanished.
Outside the club, Questlove asked Prince what happened and he simply responded, “Ask your boy.”
“He kicked my ass!” Fallon said. “He was great. He’s a legend and we wish he was around to make more music and more stories. We love him.”