What a Day in Jimmy Fallon's Iconic "Perm Week" Really Looks Like

You needn't remember February 2011 with glistening clarity to know the standout moments: it was the Black Eyed Peas who headlined the Super Bowl halftime show, "Jersey Shore" was the most popular reality show on TV, and a new bit called "perm week" premiered on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon." The latter concept was simple yet distinctively unforgettable: each night, over the course of a week, an unassuming volunteer from the audience would reveal a brand-new perm hairstyle. "We're saluting the one thing in this world that we know is truly permanent," Fallon would say in his monologue, to a crescendo of music in the background.

The response, both from the in-studio audience and online, was swift and explosive. Dozens of fans shared their own perm throwbacks on Twitter; tear-faced emoji flooded the YouTube comments section. More than a decade later, memes featuring a curly-haired Fallon still percolate the dusty corners of the internet.

The team continued the segment for years, sourcing brave audience members night after night, until it fizzled out, reasons unknown, and Fallon made the jump over to "The Tonight Show." Now, from Feb. 13 through Feb. 17, the host is bringing it back — and, in a way, it's almost as if it never left.

That's right, everyone. It's the return of perm week.

First, Why Perms?

Any Fallon fan worth their weight in "Saturday Night Live" merch knows this man has worn many wigs throughout his decades-long career in comedy. Mullets, bowl cuts, toupees; he's done it all. So why perms? What is it about the tightly curled hairstyle that has enough of a hold over people to warrant its own recurring segment on the biggest late-night talk show in the world?

Here's why: everyone has a perm story. Perhaps you have one yourself, or your mom or cousin Susan twice removed. Or maybe you just watched "The Brady Bunch" with starry eyes every time Mike or Bobby sauntered across the screen. Did you know Bob Ross had a perm? The point is, everybody has some connection to the style, even (or especially) the "The Tonight Show" team.

Take Fallon, for example. When he was in college, a hairstylist offered to give him a "body wave" (a version of the perm that features looser curls) free of charge. She was in beauty school, you see, so she needed the experience. "She took the rollers out, and it looked like a cross between Mike Brady and maybe Samuel L. Jackson from 'Pulp Fiction,'" Fallon tells POPSUGAR. His mom slammed the door on him at Christmas. He begged his friend to fix it back in his dorm room, so he agreed to give him a fade cut on the sides. "Then I looked like I was in Color Me Badd. It was Kramer-ish in the height and stuff." There was nothing left to do but wait for it to grow out. "I learned nothing comes for free," Fallon says, laughing. "You'll pay later."

Back in 2011, he was retelling the story in the writer's room and, instantly, a collective lightbulb: Give someone a perm on the show. Reveal it to friends and family. Capture the reaction.

Illustration by Becky Jiras

Fallon doesn't know why they stopped doing perm week a decade ago, but when Chris Miller joined "The Tonight Show" as showrunner last year, he knew he wanted to resuscitate old favorites. Perm week was a natural contender because he, too, has vivid memories of growing up around the style.

"Everybody I knew had perms, and if they didn't have a perm, they bought a crimping iron," Miller says. His sister was a cosmetologist, and she would do treatments in their kitchen. The results were always a gamble, which made it all the more fun: "Are we going to use the pink rods, or the green rods? Is it going to be a disaster, or is it going to be awesome?"

That's what also makes it great for TV. Which brings us back to this week, in 2023, where on Monday, Feb. 13, a 21-year-old Chris Scott sits in the hair and makeup chair backstage.

What Goes Into Perm Week on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon"

There's a lot about the original bit that Miller wanted to keep the same; the formula worked, after all. As such, they asked for volunteers (or as Fallon jokes, "lucky winners") from real-life fans to appear on the show. Scott was plucked from the audience during an earlier taping and agreed to be part of the segment. Still, as Lucille Javier, the hairstylist and color/texture specialist from Mark Ryan Salon that the team brought in for the week, pulls his pin-straight hair into sections, rolling each half-inch into colorful curlers, he looks nervous.

Chris Scott gets a perm for "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon."
Todd Owyoung | NBC

He's never gotten a perm before, although his parents did and he's seen pictures, so he was open to trying it. "Tight, '80s ringlet curls" was the directive Javier was given, she says, adding that she can't reveal much else. They want Scott to be surprised.

The prep process takes place earlier in the day, about five hours before the reveal. Javier is using a "hot" perm method, meaning the chemical solution is applied before heat, which then breaks the structural bond in your hair to make it easier to mold into a curl. She's using two sizes of plastic rods: tiny and tinier. Each one creates a different, albeit tight, ringlet.

"For me, the sillier looking, the better," Fallon says. "We could probably fix it later to loosen it up."

The Perm Week Hairstyle Reveal

This is both Fallon and Miller's favorite part, and also why the "The Tonight Show" team are so adamant about keeping participants away from mirrors, phones, or anything else that could tip them off to the final look. That builds the anticipation, so when friends and family rip off their blindfolds as the audience member soars through a blown-up "before" photo — because "I always wanted somebody to just jump through paper," Fallon says — how will everyone react to such a dramatic transformation?

Perm hairstyle reveal on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.
Todd Owyoung | NBC

"The perm makes for the perfect reveal," Fallon says. "It's our version of, 'Move that bus.' It really just shows how much fun people are willing to have to get a good laugh."

Miller adds, "Who knows, maybe there will be a group of people who will watch this and think, 'OK, I want to try this at home.' Fashion and beauty is so cyclical anyway that everything comes back. You look at everybody who had perms back in the day, and it was a chic trend. It was expensive to get, so a lot of celebrities had it, but somehow the average Joe figures out how to do it, too."

Standing next to his parents, brother, and girlfriend, all of whom grasp their faces in shock, Scott turns to look in the mirror. Then comes what the host — and really, everyone at home — wants: a laugh.

Contestant Chris Scott during the Perm Week reveal.
Todd Owyoung | NBC

As Scott whips his head back and forth to give the roaring live audience a view from every angle, you can't help but notice his curls bouncing effortlessly, springy and free, and wonder if he'll embrace the perm after all. It looks great. Perhaps he'll even change his tune from what he said in the makeup chair, mere hours before: "This will be my first and probably last perm."

Watch the full clip of Monday's "perm week" episode below.

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