Greg Kinnear has never struck me as particularly dishonest, but he lied his way out of his ass on a recent episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. When describing his experience free diving with sharks off the coast of Cuba, he said that everyone has electricity inside of them that can attract predators. “Jimmy Fallon has electricity, and I think America knows that,” he added offhandedly. The audience erupted in applause.
Jimmy Fallon, on the other hand, does not have access to electricity. Watch any clip of him on the Tonight Show interviewing a celebrity and you’ll notice that he has an uncanny ability to imitate charisma. This is accomplished by making his guests laugh at things that aren’t funny, pretending a mundane anecdote is the most interesting thing he’s ever heard, and forcing them to play silly games with him. Observing it is exhausting.
It was during the infamous time slot battle between Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno that Fallon was hired as a late-night host in 2009. Fallon took comfort in being the one who was ignored, and spent his time turning Late Night with Jimmy Fallon into a bubbly variety show that New York Magazine described as “a very modern antidote to free-form irony.”
You may recall Fallon’s “6bee” parody, which featured the Parks and Recreation cast and ended with Fallon singing Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” and the “History of Rap” sketches, in which Fallon and Justin Timberlake would perform a medley of rap hits. It’s amusing because they’re all white men in suits, get it?
Much is made of the fact that Fallon’s strength lies in the fact that he was, at the time, allowing himself to have fun in that New York profile.
“If other late-night shows have become known for their familiar crankiness — directed at politicians, our trashy culture, or rival talk-show hosts,” Adam Sternbergh wrote, “Fallon now presides over a goofy, raucous, playful, innovative hour of shameless shenanigans.”
Being cranky, as irritating as it may be, implies that one has an opinion on something, a quality that has been a prerequisite for most late-night hosts throughout history. Fallon, a pioneer in the field, has never expressed an opinion on anything, and as a result, his show suffers.
While the other late-night hosts currently on the air have carved out some semblance of a personality — Jimmy Kimmel is sardonic, Stephen Colbert is intelligent, Seth Meyers is a little dorky, and James Corden can sing — Fallon is simply happy to be there. Every story a guest tells him is “awesome” or “amazing.” His interviewing style is most akin to that of a high school student who hasn’t done any of the required reading. “Gatsby man, so that guy, he’s great, right?” he might say if he had F. Scott Fitzgerald on the show.
Taylor Lautner recently appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and revealed that his friends refer to him and his fiancée (also named Taylor) as “girl Tay, boy Tay.” You’d think Fallon was seeing Richard Pryor at the Apollo based on his reaction. “Oh my god,” he said, barely able to keep it together as he cackled and clapped.
I find it difficult to watch late-night shows without being reminded of David Letterman.
I recall him interviewing Paris Hilton in 2007 after she served a brief jail sentence for violating her probation. Hilton is ostensibly on the show to discuss her new fragrance, but Letterman keeps circling back to her time in prison, despite Hilton’s obvious discomfort with the topic.
It’s easy to watch this clip fifteen years later and think Letterman crossed some kind of line. He was pressuring a young woman who had already been publicly humiliated to discuss the one subject she didn’t want to discuss. While this would probably be frowned upon today, especially coming from a man, it’s worth noting that it’s actually quite amusing.
Fallon would never purposefully make someone of any level of celebrity uncomfortable for the sake of delivering a punchline. Furthermore, you’d never see him make a fool of himself, as Letterman does at the end of the interview when he removes the cap from Hilton’s new fragrance and starts chugging it. Paris Hilton brought photos from her wedding to Fallon in January (“Wowzers,” he exclaimed as he showed them to the audience) and introduced him to her Bored Ape NFT. “We’re both from the same community,” he said, displaying his own.
To call what Fallon does “comedy” is an insult to an art form that has already suffered a great deal in recent years.
Yes, he’s reading jokes, but think back to the last time you heard him tell one that was particularly funny. Fallon’s real talent is making celebrities seem like fun and relatable people, for those who find it in themselves to tune in. This is a vexing but necessary part of his coworkers’ jobs; for him, it’s the end.. It’s a compelling approach that may lead you to believe Zoey Dutch’s knowledge of Yiddish is more interesting than it is. However, if you watch Fallon long enough, it becomes tedious. None of the guests are the funniest or most interesting people alive.
The audience appears to agree. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was the most-watched late night show for the fifth season in a row at the end of the 2020-2021 season, and for the first time ever, Jimmy Kimmel Live! outperformed the Tonight Show, putting Fallon in third place in the 11:30 p.m. slot.
Fallon’s contract at NBC, where he also produces That’s My Jam and Clash of the Cover Bands (on NBC Universal-owned E! ), was renewed for another five years a few months before those ratings were released. Famous people try to remember song lyrics to avoid being sprayed with water in the first, while non-famous people cover famous songs and are judged by Meghan Trainor in the second. What brilliant concept will he come up with next?
Fallon will be with us until at least 2026. He’ll be going through the motions for many more years, playing games like “Egg Russian Roulette” and fawning over actors whose films he hasn’t seen. He can’t believe his luck — all these humans are so incredible, he thinks, with the eager eyes of a golden retriever.
Source: Todd Owyoung/NBC Olivia Craighead Grifters3.25.2022