Monday marked the first day back to work for "Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon after the sudden passing of his mother, Gloria, earlier this month. Fallon opened the show with a tearful tribute to his beloved mom, featuring an anecdote that would coincidentally come back into play during an emotional performance from Taylor Swift.
After his monologue, the comedian thanked fans for their support during such a difficult time for his family, and said that his mother was "the best audience."
"She was the one I was always trying to make laugh, and she was such a fan of the show, and everything I did," Fallon said, fighting back tears. " ... Mom, I'll never stop trying to make you laugh. I love you."
The host also told a story about his childhood, when his mom would squeeze his hand three times as she said, "I love you," and he would squeeze her hand back and say, "I love you, too." Fallon said he knew that Gloria's health was taking a turn for the worse when he squeezed her hand in the hospital, and she did not respond in kind.
In what would turn out to be an incredible coincidence, Swift was called in as a last-minute musical guest for the show, and debuted a new song from her album "Reputation," called "New Year's Day." The track contains the lyric, "You squeeze my hand three times in the back of the taxi," an unintentional surprise callback to the story Fallon had told earlier.
It was a connection that the "Tonight Show" crew didn't even realize existed, as explained by writer and producer Mike DiCenzo on Twitter.
The story about his mom squeezing his hand 3 times to say "I love you" when he was a kid, and then him squeezing her hand in the hospital - he hadn't told any of us that story... More on that in a second.— Mike DiCenzo (@mikedicenzo) November 14, 2017
First, a quick word about Taylor Swift. She was not scheduled to do our show today. But we wanted something special for this first show back, so we asked her on a complete whim, since she had been in town doing SNL. She said yes with zero hesitation.— Mike DiCenzo (@mikedicenzo) November 14, 2017
She sang "New Year's Day." No one had heard it. Suddenly she sings the line, "Squeeze my hand 3 times in the back of the taxi." I nearly gasped. Tears. I think everyone in the audience started sobbing.— Mike DiCenzo (@mikedicenzo) November 14, 2017
I could see Jimmy silhouetted at his desk dabbing his eyes with a tissue. We all lost it. It was a beautiful coincidence in a beautiful performance. "Hold on to your memories, they will hold on to you," Taylor sang.— Mike DiCenzo (@mikedicenzo) November 14, 2017
That hug between Jimmy and Taylor after the song was 100% real emotion. Whatever you think of Taylor, she did something beautiful for Jimmy and our show today, and we're forever grateful.— Mike DiCenzo (@mikedicenzo) November 14, 2017
And DiCenzo added that there was one additional surprise, especially for Gloria, added into the end of the show.
One last note: our show was right on time today, but we edited out a minute to leave room for Jimmy high-fiving audience members during the end credits. It was Gloria's favorite part of the show.— Mike DiCenzo (@mikedicenzo) November 14, 2017
We love you, Gloria.— Mike DiCenzo (@mikedicenzo) November 14, 2017
What a beautiful story, and what a beautiful tribute to Gloria. It's getting misty in here...