Footage showed small groups of masked individuals in the audience, and Fallon and guest Andy Cohen later said the audience was just 58 people.
“I’ve never been so excited to do a show for 58 people in my entire life,” Fallon joked. “After last year, this is like performing at a sold-out Madison Square Garden.”
Fallon also told viewers that his in-studio audience was made up of fully vaccinated first responders and that all week the audience will include first responders and health care workers. He thanked them for everything they'd done over the past year.
Much of the studio looked the same, with The Roots to Fallon's left and announcer Steve Higgins to his right, but The Roots did seem to have gotten a somewhat new set-up allowing for members of the band to remain socially distanced during the show.
Fallon also joked that a family of raccoons has taken up residence in his desk since the show left the studio a year ago.
Cohen, who joined Fallon in studio, was seated on a couch spaced a little further than usual away from the host's desk with a large coffee table between them. Fellow guest Tracee Ellis Ross, however, appeared via video, with Fallon speaking to a large video screen across from his desk.
"It's still more than double the size of my normal audience," Cohen, who hosts Bravo's Watch What Happens Live, said of Fallon's crowd. "This is certainly the most people I've seen in over a year. This is great."
Fallon and many of his network late-night colleagues returned to their studios, after initially taping shows remotely from their homes for a few months, over the summer, but all have done so without live audiences (apart from a handful of masked crew members and colleagues in the studio). CBS' Late Show With Stephen Colbert has been broadcasting from a replica of the host's office at the Ed Sullivan Theater.
With Monday's show, Fallon's Tonight Show seems to be the first nightly network late-night show to bring back a live audience since the pandemic put an end to in-studio audiences in March 2020.
Fellow NBC 30 Rock show, Saturday Night Live, has had a small, masked audience of first responders since returning to its studio this fall. Similarly, other one-off events in recent months have featured audiences made up of masked first responders.
Fallon took to social media on Monday night to celebrate bringing back a live audience, sharing pictures from the show and writing, “I can’t describe the feeling of performing in front of a live audience. We work well together. I missed it so much. Thank you.”
This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.