It's fairly common for comedians to move into behind-the-scenes roles as writers and/or producers after their onstage careers peter out. In the case of Steve Higgins, his transition from a sketch comedy performer (as one-third of The Higgins Boys and Gruber) to a high-level role at "Saturday Night Live" was in keeping with that trend, but his subsequent side job as the announcer and sidekick on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" was more unexpected.
Stephen Higgins was born August 13, 1963, in Des Moines, IA, one of five children in a middle-class suburban family. In 1985, he joined a sketch comedy troupe called Don't Quit Your Day Job that had been founded three years earlier by his brother David Anthony Higgins. The troupe also included a recent Illinois transplant named Dave Allen, who was better known by the nickname "Gruber." In 1988, Steve, David and Dave relocated to Los Angeles and renamed their act The Higgins Boys and Gruber. Their stage show, a fast-paced combination of sketches and songs, soon became popular enough to attract the attention of Joel Hodgson, creator of the cult favorite "Mystery Science Theater 3000" (1988-1999), who had signed a development deal with his show's network, the fledgling Comedy Channel.
Recognizing a brand of Midwestern surrealism similar to his own work, Hodgson created a daily half-hour show for the team. The Higgins Boys and Gruber (Comedy Channel 1990-91) was a largely improvised show filmed on a set that looked like a typical suburban family kitchen, on which the trio would perform sketches, interview guests and show clips from old films and TV shows. Although the show was canceled when The Comedy Channel merged with its competitor Ha!, the trio went on to film an episode of HBO's popular standup comedy series "One Night Stand" (1989-1992). Their 1991 show included audience favorites like "Captain Lucky," in which David portrayed a hung-over, chain-smoking host of a local children's TV show and Steven played a hapless fledgling ventriloquist.
The Higgins Boys and Gruber split amicably in the early 1990s, following a stint on the writing staff of the short-lived game show "Trashed" (MTV 1994). David Anthony Higgins went on to co-star on various television sitcoms, including "Ellen" (ABC 1994-98), "Malcolm in the Middle" (Fox 2000-06) and "Mike and Molly" (CBS 2010- ). Allen played guidance counselor Jeff Rosso on cult favorite "Freaks and Geeks" (NBC 1999-2000) and, with Steve Higgins, created the stage character The Naked Trucker, later starring opposite David Koechner on "The Naked Trucker and T-Bones Show" (Comedy Central 2007). But Steve Higgins went into behind-the-scenes work instead, moving from "Trashed" to the writing staff of the talk show "The Jon Stewart Show" (MTV 1993-95), where he became head writer. In 1995, Higgins joined the writing staff of "Saturday Night Live" (NBC 1975- ). He quickly became a fixture at the long-running sketch show, eventually rising to the role of producer and unofficial second-in-command to executive producer Lorne Michaels.
When Conan O'Brien left "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" (NBC 1993-2009) for his ill-fated stint as host of "The Tonight Show" (NBC 1954- ), the latter program's executive producer Michaels chose former SNL cast member Jimmy Fallon as O'Brien's replacement. During the new show's rehearsal period, Higgins stood in as Fallon's temporary announcer and sidekick, but the two old friends fell into such an easy rapport that when "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" (NBC 2009-2014) went on the air, Steve Higgins was Fallon's on-air right hand man. As the Ed McMahon to Fallon's Johnny Carson, Higgins served as Fallon's sounding board during the show's monologue and was an integral part of the show's comedy bits. A master of vocal sound effects, Higgins often added improvised noises to Fallon's jokes, which would frequently spin off into spontaneous comic riffing. However, due to Higgins' continued role as a producer and writer on "Saturday Night Live," he often left the "Late Night" set during the guest interviews, to return to the SNL offices when that show was in production.