My Spirited Defense of Jimmy Fallon

By: E · February 19, 2009

For those who don’t know, tomorrow night is the end of Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and Alan Sepinwall has written a fantastic article taking a look back on the historic run of the tall, skinny, awkward red head that we all grew to love and call one of our own. In his place steps Jimmy Fallon, the SNL alum who laughed his way through sketches and seemingly stumbled into the job. And, like anyone stepping into the role, he’s been getting panned by critics for any number of reasons, some valid, some not. Late Night audiences are fickle creatures, as someone who used to religiously watch Letterman and Conan, I can attest. We want to be entertained with goofy, absurdist humor, while at the same time given something worth our time and intelligence, a delicate balance that Conan O’Brien, once he caught his stride, managed to hit on an almost nightly basis due to his writing chops, and his team of new-wave alt-comedy gods in the making.

Fallon represents an interesting concept. He is an identifiable face without really any kind of identity. It’s something that NBC has been trying to remedy, by having Fallon shoot daily videos that develop his backstory, as well as give viewers an inside peek into the development of the new Late Night show itself. And while Conan may have been a king with the pen, but shaky with the delivery, Fallon will be the opposite: a guy who’ll probably be more comfortable in front of the camera, but shaky with finding a voice that works with his general demeanor. The giggles will now be appropriate, and there’s no quesation that Fallon, at the very least, can straight facedly deliver a well written joke with decent to great success having been a Weekend Update anchor in his time at SNL.

Fallon announced that AD Miles, a former member of MTV’s legendary sketch comedy show The State, and current veteran standup comedian and writer in the alt-comedy scene. The choice bolsters the notion that Fallon is setting himself to be a youthful answer to Conan’s brand of humor, not in the way that younger audiences flock to gross-out humor or immaturity, but in the way that today’s youth, having grown up in the Internet age, understand that culture is made up of intensely defined niches, comedy being maybe one of the most extreme examples of this phenomenon. The State, largely seen as one of the best modern sketch shows and having gone on to produce great offshoots like Reno 9-1-1, Stella, Wet Hot American Summer, and most recently Role Models (directed and written by State members), was and hell, probably still IS a very acquired taste. So is Miles’ brand of awkward, camera winking stand up. But there’s no question that Miles has a firmly defined voice, something that will hopefully translate well over to Fallon’s ability to play the straight man so well in absurdist situations (when he’s not playing a character). There’s an awkward likability about Fallon that, when armed with the niche style of humor that Miles and crew will bring, hopefully will translate to the kind of acceptance that he needs before he can start launching into the ridiculous ideas like The Masturbating Bear, or Pimpbot the same way Conan did.

But above everything else, it’s the way that Fallon has embraced the blogger culture that predicts a good chance for success. Having done everything from hiring a full-time blogger (former Best Week Ever blogger Sara Schaefer, who is by all accounts, AMAZING), guesting on podcasts like Diggnation, doing the webclips, and setting up his personal twitter account, Fallon is already cultivating that familiarity that lets us, the bloggers, the nerds, the dorks, the geeks, feel like he’s really one of us. Laud Conan all you want (I’ll join you), but the guy is of an older generation now, and his transition to the Tonight Show comes at a time when his faux-vaudeville, Harvard-level composure just may have breached the possibility of losing its effect on Late Night. Fallon steps in with the Roots band, the ability to talk about his favorite bloggers and podcasters, he tweets from dressing rooms post-interviews about his insecurities, and he has already extended invitations to a number of webfamous personalities who bring with them an army of grassroots support. If you wanted someone to step into a show that, let’s face it, requires geeks first to succeed, Fallon has done it the right way.

Now all that’s left is for him to get up and execute. THAT, as we can all agree, is another beast entirely (paging Mr. Chevy Chase). But if you ask me, he has my utmost support and full attention….for a couple of months, at least.

Good luck, Jimmy Fallon. And we’ll miss you, Conan O’Brien.

Filed under: All,TV


2 Responses to “My Spirited Defense of Jimmy Fallon”
  1. jc says:

    “Now all that’s left is for him to get up and execute. THAT, as we can all agree, is another beast entirely.”

    That’ll be the key. Fallon was lucky to have a co-anchor in Tina Fey (who if Lorne had faith in women, she would have gotten the seat alone). His sketch work was mediocre at best (and looking professional when standing next to Horatio), it’d be nice if connected, but I have my doubts.

  2. E says:

    Yeah, I agree. He’s given us plenty of reason to doubt him. But if you’ve seen him recently, on his appearances and his interactions with the webfamous people, the guy is actually starting to look….like a very likable geek. Which I think will work well if he can cobble together a decent stage presence, for the audience he’s going to be going after.

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