Late Night Rundown – Jimmy Fallon

Back in the 70′s, there was only Johnny Carson.  But since the retirement of the undisputed King of Late Night in 1992, there has been a plethora of new shows pop up, each with the same basic formula, but unique in their own way. After reading Bill Carter’s The War For Late Night, I have become addicted to late-night television all over again.  So I am starting a new series of posts dedicated to the many hosts out there currently making us laugh after prime time, analyzing one at a time.

Count me among the many who were certain Jimmy Fallon would fail. We had seen his spotty routines on Saturday Night Live – the little shit couldn’t keep from laughing in every sketch he was in (in retrospect, and considering the current state of that show, maybe we were too hard on the guy) – and we’d seen his short, unsuccessful foray into movies. So of course we were skeptical when he was announced as Conan O’Brien’s replacement for the Late Night dynasty – a dynasty created by the smart irreverence of a young David Letterman, and one that Conan made delightfully weird. How could this little unfunny prettyboy, even with a young writing staff and the best band in late night – the legendary Roots crew – successfully follow the great O’Brien?

The answer: a total re-invention of the show.  It’s true Fallon isn’t the funniest, quickest, or wittiest host in his time slot – that honor goes to Craig Ferguson – but Jimmy is young and hip, and he always goes out and acts like he’s having a blast every night.  Unlike an infamous flaw of Conan’s, spending too much time on his weaknesses, Fallon zips through the monologue and gets to the pinnacle of his program – the written bits and audience-participation game shows.  And while most of his material is akin to the laziness of Jay Leno (having your audience tell your jokes for you), Jimmy’s presence is so endearing, and the guy is so likable, he makes it work.  Or it could be that because his audience is younger than Leno’s, maybe they’re just generally funnier.  Whatever the case, his Web presence and interaction with viewers is fresh and creative – his weekly Twitter hashtag sketch puts Leno’s Headlines to shame, and the Late Night writers always find a way to inject some homage to/mockery of the game show they are blatantly, and absurdly, satirizing.

You know what else Jimmy does?  He really doesn’t interview that much.  How great is that?  I mean, wouldn’t you agree that’s usually the most boring part of late night talk shows?  Watching a comedian (who is usually sub-par at interviewing) let a Hollywood blowhard talk about how awesome his new movie is?  Jimmy Fallon treats interviewing like his monologue – short and sweet.  He tackles the big topics, throws some jokes in, and then finds a way to involve his guest in a bit or competition of some sort.  Fallon, who is likely the most competitive non-athletic celebrity in the world, is always challenging his A-list guests to simple backyard hangout games.  He’s beaten Betty White at beer pong; he’s lost a game of horseshoes to Kid Rock.  He may also involve them in a comedic musical bit, which is Fallon’s specialty.  He’s rapped an homage to hip-hop with Justin Timberlake; he’s danced around with Stephen Colbert to Rebecca Black’s “Friday.”  Hell, he even gets the stuck-up douches to loosen up and sing! (I’m looking at you, Blake Shelton.)

So let me just conclude with an apology – Jimmy, I’m sorry.  I underestimated you.  Your show is awesome.  It’s a late night show for the 21st century, surrounded by peers who are still trying to embody the long-gone spirit of a Johnny Carson era.  It’s fresh, it’s innovative, it’s interactive, and, most of all surprising, it’s actually funny.  And when you introduce a musical guest, you make me feel like you’ve heard of the band, or you’ve done research, and that you’re genuinely glad these people are performing on your show.  And as a viewer, I appreciate that.  Thank you for making a routine show not feel so…..routine.

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