"You made a really good choice," said Smith to Fallon at one point, turning toward the musicians who stood 10 feet away. "You got a lot of Philly boys to support you."
In the last five years, those Philly boys, a/k/a the Roots, have shown the world exactly why they were the only choice to back Jay Leno's replacement.
The collective of musicians, fronted by gifted emcee Black Thought, had often put their acting and comedic chops on display as the house band for "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," which premiered in 2009.
But that was then, and this was "Tonight."
The energy surrounding the taping of the inaugural episode was palpable in the lobby of 30 Rockefeller Plaza on Monday. Many ticket holders arrived as early as 2 p.m., only to have security tell them to come back in two hours, rather than clog sidewalk space at the bustling tourist site.
Laughter could be heard up and down the waiting line.
"I am so excited to be here for the first show," said Marissa Getz, 41, of Connecticut, who attended the taping with a co-worker. "I've been a fan of Jimmy Fallon for years, but I really love the Roots. They are such an awesome band. I love how he always used them in the skits on the old show. I hope they do the same thing on the new show."
Once the taping was under way, Fallon gushed about the Philadelphia band.
"To my left is the most talented band in all the land," he said. "You are going to fall in love with them, if you don't know them already. They can play with Tony Bennett and play with Jay Z without blinking an eye."
A parade of celebrities made quick cameos after Fallon announced that a buddy owed him $100 bucks over a bet that he would "never host 'The Tonight Show.' "
Robert De Niro strolled out to a rousing ovation and flicked a Benjamin on the host's desk. He was followed by Lady Gaga, Mariah Carey, Mike Tyson, Joan Rivers, Sarah Jessica Parker and Fallon's former "Saturday Night Live" cast mate (and Upper Darby's own) Tina Fey, among others.
Stephen Colbert, Fallon's direct competition at 11:30 p.m. on Comedy Central, was the last to pay his debt with a hundred dollars worth of pennies. "Welcome to 11:30, b----," he declared, as he took a selfie with Fallon on his phone.
Roots keyboardist James Poyser said afterward, "It was the start of a new era tonight, and to be a part of that is an amazing and humbling feeling. I'm really happy for Jimmy, too, because he is a great guy. The proof is in all of the star power that came out for the first show. If you build it, they will come, especially for a guy like him. He will bring them out in New York."