The “Tonight Show” is Finally Important Again!

7 Mar

Jimmy Fallon

When I was a little kid, my mom would put me to bed at a normal kid bedtime, then she would promptly go back downstairs thinking that I was sound asleep and dreaming like the cutest child ever that I was. (Not to brag, but my shit was CUTE). But rather than go to sleep at a normal time so that I was well rested for school the next morning, I would sneak into my parent’s bedroom, where my dad was watching TV. I would jump into bed with him and we would watch Cheers and the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. By the time the guests were coming out, my mom would usually head up to use the bathroom or get ready for bed, so I would dart back to my bedroom and finally fall asleep. While I’m sure this is the reason that I didn’t learn anything in elementary school, it is one of my happiest childhood memories. My dad loved Johnny Carson, and Johnny always made him laugh, no matter how tired or stressed out from the day he was.

Even though I’m sure I understood 0% of what Johnny was talking about, I loved him too. I got that something special and funny was happening, and I liked being in on the joke, even if I didn’t understand the punchline. Because of this, I’ve always had a soft spot for Johnny Carson, and for what the Tonight Show represents and has meant for pop culture. I remember crying all through the final episode on May 22, 1992 (I cannot remember what I ate for lunch yesterday, but I somehow have never forgotten this date) (That’s not true – soup), and knowing that I was watching something truly important come to an end.

…Then Jay Leno took over. Jay Leno had a pointy chin, a funny voice, and laughed at his own jokes. I hated him from the minute I laid eyes on him. Soon after he began, I read some magazine article about Jay Leno outside of work. In the pictures, he was wearing all denim, and the interview mainly focused on how he owned 14 cars or something. That is about the time that my hatred slowly morphed into disgust.

Mercedes-Benz-Jay-Leno

Fast forward to 2009, when Jay Leno finally stepped down as the host of the Tonight Show to let Conan O’Brien take the reigns. When I heard the news, I was elated. I liked Conan O’Brien although, admittedly, I was not a super-fan at all. But he was quirky and not Jay Leno, which was all I needed. Naturally, when I learned that Jay Leno would not be quitting entirely, simply downgrading to a smaller size show at a different time, I grew skeptical. Why would he leave the Tonight Show to take something worse? Now fast forward again to 2010 when Conan O’Brien was canned after one year, and Jay Leno was asked to return. My reaction was “What in the god#$%m hell is $*%&ing going on here.” Whenever I think about it, even 4 years later, I am shocked that it happened. Poor Conan – now he’s on TBS (Very Funny™), and that is not very funny at all. In fact, it’s quite depressing for him.

Conan sad face

I had pretty much written off the Tonight Show as a snoozer that only old people watch after that debacle. That is, until the fateful day when it was announced that Jay Leno would be retiring, for real this time, and that his successor would be Jimmy Fallon. Jimmy Adorable Fallon! Again, that elated feeling washed over me and I once again believed in the power of the Tonight Show. I have eagerly been watching Fallon’s first few weeks of episodes, and I am impressed! I didn’t watch Late Night with Jimmy Fallon very often, so I really only knew about his bits with celebrities that always go viral, like the lip syncing battles and the History of Rap with Sir Justin Timberlake (Justin hasn’t been knighted yet, but he will be soon and I’ll be like, I was calling him Sir before it was cool). I had never seen him do an opening monologue, or interview a guest before now. After watching for a few weeks, I shall depart my expert knowledge on you now via a thorough categorization: The Good and The Not So Good.

The Good:

1. The bet.

Jimmy made an offhanded comment during his monologue about making a $100 bet with some people that he would never be the Tonight Show host, and feeling extremely proud that he won. Cue 1,000 amazing celebrities coming by to drop a $100 bill on his desk because they were the losers of said bet. This was awesome for so many reasons – first, it’s fun to see random celebrities; second, they just kept coming! They ranged from Robert DeNiro to my best girlfriend Tina Fey to Sarah Jessica Parker to Lindsay Lohan, ending appropriately with Stephen Colbert yelling “Welcome to 11:30, bitch!”; lastly, these cameos made the show feel like an event. If all of those big name celebrities were willing to give their time to walk on stage, it must be worthwhile. And you could feel the audience anticipating who was going to come out next, and each time, their applause just got louder and louder. It was an exciting way to start the show, and it set the tone for what this means both for television and for Jimmy Fallon’s career.

2. The First Sketch

Jimmy Fallon is an SNL alum, so obviously his strengths lie in the sketches. The first one we saw was the Evolution of Hip-Hop Dancing with Will Smith.

Who doesn’t like these “Evolution” of whatever videos? They’re a sure-fire hit. And they did “The Carleton” so we were all able to honor the days of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which I try to do on a daily basis, anyway.

The Carleton

3. Two words – You. Too. (Oh you know, my bad. I just Googled it, and I think it’s actually U2).

Not only did Jimmy Fallon score U2 as the first band to play the new Tonight Show, but they played on the motherfucking roof! In New York City! It was like Dick Clark’s Rockin New Year’s Eve, but without Ryan Seacrest and his big sparkly ball. Say what you will about U2’s new album (most have chosen to say the word BAD), but I will forever love U2 and everything they do ever. They’re a rock band and they wear sunglasses in the night and they exude awesomeness. I could have done without their follow-up interview where Larry Mullen, Jr. awkwardly sat on the back of the couch, rather than next to the rest of the band, but that’s neither here nor there.

4. The ragtime rendition of Ignition (Remix).

Jimmy Fallon has done this bit before where he and a barbershop quartet perform ragtime versions of popular songs. Doesn’t it sound funny when I say it like that?!? But this one was amazingly good, if you ask this R. Kelly fan. Dan didn’t recognize the song at first, and I shot an evil glare his way and sharply responded, “It’s Ignition by R. Kelly.” Get it together, Dan!

5. Rapper’s Delight performed by Brian Williams and Lester Holt.

By now, its dawned on me that every one of these videos went viral the day after they aired, so you’ve probably watched them each 100 times, (Get it together, Alex!) but that just goes to show how important this show already is. And that people love watching YouTube videos. Anyway, if you haven’t seen this, some brilliant editors at the Tonight Show reviewed nightly newscast footage from both Brian Williams and Lester Holt in order to splice together the lyrics to Rapper’s Delight. And it is 100% delightful:

6. #Hashtag2.

I am not a Twitter user, and I certainly do not use hashtags in my daily life. For this reason, I find anything that makes fun of hashtag use to be abnormally hilarious. Please do not be offended, avid hashtag users, when I say that hashtags are so stupid. But at the same time, I don’t ever want it to end because then sketches like this will discontinue and that would make me sad. #hatersgonnahate #iactuallykindoflikethis #imightstartusinghashtagsmore #whatupnyc #lifeofasuperstar #gottagetthatcash #stoprunningsofastimtired #arethesesupposedtomakesense #ofcoursetheyarenot #thankyounothankyou #beingamomisatoughjobbutitsalsoreallyrewarding

7. Justin Timberlake, of course.

There couldn’t be Jimmy without Justin, especially to close out the first week. Everything about the Justin Timberlake episode was amazing, especially since he was sick and seemed to have taken an extra dose of cough medicine, if you know what I mean. The best part, that everyone was waiting impatiently for, was the fifth installment of the History of Rap. Knowing this, Jimmy and Justin jumped straight into it, and did not let us down.

The Not So Good:

1. The First Guest and The First Interview.

Will Smith? Am I crazy, or does this not seem like the most exciting/appropriate celebrity to have on as your FIRST GUEST EVER on the Tonight Show. Don’t get me wrong, Will Smith is lovely, and there is no doubt that he is a huge movie star. But he also hasn’t been in a movie since Men In Black 18 or whatever one they last did. Couldn’t he have scored someone more recent? What about Jennifer Lawrence? Or my buddy Leo. (DiCaprio? Do you know him?) It felt to me like a bigger guest fell through at the last minute, and Jimmy’s good buddy had to fill in.

I was waiting for this...

I was waiting for this…

...but instead, I just got this.

…but instead, I just got this.

Nonetheless, this could have all been fixed with a solid interview. Instead, we received a very wobbly first interview, teetering on painful. I had heard that Jimmy Fallon wasn’t terribly strong at interviews, but I needed to see for myself. You guys, Jimmy Fallon is not very strong at interviews. I seen it with my own eyes. Now, to be fair, I’m sure nerves played a big part and even by week 2, he seemed more at ease. But this was pretty bad. There was a lot of enthusiastic ice breakers like, “How are the kids?” and pre-show interview set-ups like, “So I hear you’re a big fan of the Olympics.” Uuuggggghhhh. It was so not off the cuff, and so boring that I started to feel uncomfortable. Will Smith was really nice, and Jimmy Fallon was really, really nice, but that does not an interesting interview make.

I watched one, count em one, episode of Late Night with Seth Meyers, and while I thought most of it was terrible (only because it was his first episode and he was treating it like Weekend Update instead of a talk show, but that will improve), he is a solid interviewer and Jimmy Fallon might want to take some notes. But the upside of Jimmy’s interviews is that he’s truly a nice person and he seems to genuinely love everything and everybody, which is quite an endearing quality to have. So it could be worse.

2. Speaking of Guests…

I am a huge fan of Kristen Wiig. Love her. So I was really excited that she was going to be a guest on the second episode, and I was looking forward to some improvisational banter. Well, be careful what you wish for, folks. Jimmy started out by saying that they had a surprise guest that wanted to stop by and say hello, and that guest was Harry Styles from One Direction (like I need to clarify who Harry Styles is, I mean come on). The curtain opens, and out comes Kristen Wiig in tight fitting pants, and a weird pompadour wig that looks like Harry’s weird pompadour hair. While feeling a bit disappointed that Kristen’s interview was turning into a bit, I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt, at first. While some parts of it were funny, most was just kind of boring and goofy. And no one thought they were as funny as Kristen and Jimmy themselves did, which made it nearly intolerable. It did have some funny parts, but overall I give it a mild boo.

3. Jerry Seinfeld’s Stand-Up Act

To me, this was on par with “what’s the deal with cell phones?” except it’s now 20 years later and cell phones have been around for quite a while. You’re talking about how people carry cell phones everywhere and that they text more than call? How topical, grandpa! It was fun to see Jerry Seinfeld do a stand-up act, but at least make it about something current, like how America Online is so slow or what happened on ER last night.

4. The Ew! Sketch

Oh my my my my, I did not care for this atrocity. Will Ferrell and Michelle Obama (both people I like and respect very much) were forced to do this silly sketch about teenage girls who have a show in their basement, and the guest is the First Lady. Kudos to Michelle Obama for playing along, but the opposite of kudos for Jimmy Fallon doing a sad SNL-like sketch that wasn’t funny and was just awkward. And First Lady Michelle Obama, whom I adore and idolize and think is brilliant and beautiful, we know your whole thing is kids eating healthy, but could we talk about something else now? Like the overuse of the word ‘epic.’ Maybe you could put a stop to that.

Clearly, the good has far outweighed the bad, and I am a huge fan of the new and improved Tonight Show. Jimmy said that it is his goal to make you laugh before you go to bed at night, and he has easily achieved that. He’s extraordinarily sweet, charming, and funny. He has a natural gift for sketch comedy, and everyone in Hollywood seems to like him. Jimmy Fallon has made the Tonight Show relevant again, and I’m so excited to sneak my son out of bed at night to watch it with me. Maybe I’ll wait until he’s finished the 3rd grade, though. Anything you learn after that is just icing on the cake, really…

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