Esquire Malaysia + Esquire Singapore, March 2014
The rise of Fallon
Does the future of late-night talk shows rest on this man’s shoulders?
By Sophia Goh
It’s a great time to be Jimmy Fallon [pictured right]. The Saturday-Night-Live-alumnus-turned-struggling-actor* has finally come into his own as the host of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, a platform that has allowed him to showcase his skills not only as a comedian, but also as a singer, a musician and an impersonator. Since its premiere in 2009, Late Night has carved out a cosy niche for itself among its more serious late-night peers, by winning over audiences with its unique brand of wacky games, awesome music and Fallon’s trademark slightly-goofy humour. But if the past few years have been big, this February was arguably one of his biggest yet. On February 17, Fallon officially became the new host of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, replacing the long-reigning Jay Leno as NBC’s main man of late-night television.
More than just a case of a late-night veteran stepping aside for his successor, the passing of the Leno-Fallon torch is especially significant because it also marks the beginning of a new era – an attitude shift of sorts, if you will – in late-night television. Even before the news was confirmed in April last year, Fallon and Leno made a video of themselves singing the West Side Story favourite “Tonight” to dispel rumours that they were feuding, and though it was clever, it also didn’t go unnoticed that the video was typically Fallon – and not Leno.
Fallon has said that his version of The Tonight Show will be essentially the same as Late Night – something his fans will be pleased about, and indeed it should be. That’s what he’s brilliant at, and what has made him so different and so successful, albeit to everyone’s surprise. His tendency to laugh at his own jokes, sometimes before he even finishes telling them; his ability to befriend everybody and never say a mean word about anyone – these are hardly the hallmarks of late-night television hosts.
Fallon seems to be a genuinely nice guy, even when he’s poking fun of someone. His jokes are less about lampooning the subject and more about sharing a laugh with his audience. Just about every guest is a “pal” or a “buddy”, and his fans haven’t been left out as well – they’re called “FalPals”. His refreshing likeability is paying off in spades, not least with a Vanity Fair cover story, for which he posed with supermodels Alessandra Ambrosio and Doutzen Kroes.
In a culture where it’s too easy to be mean and good news is increasingly harder to come by, could it be that a new generation of viewers is tiring of late-night hosts with a merciless, caustic wit? Is Fallon the beginning of a new kind of late-night talk show, the kind that promises a good laugh and an even better, slightly silly time? I think so. Incidentally, this move to an earlier time slot pits Fallon against Jimmy Kimmel, and the Fallon-Kimmel match-up is already being touted as the next Letterman-Leno rivalry. In that case, Kimmel, I’d be taking notes** if I were you.
* He starred opposite Drew Barrymore in the 2005 film Fever Pitch, but told Vanity Fair that he considers his time in Los Angeles as “a kind of lost period”.
** In addition to regularly scoring better ratings than rival shows, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon has also won three Emmy Awards and been nominated five times, including for Outstanding Variety Series.