By Dean Boerner | Sports Editor
The putative king of late-night television, Jimmy Fallon has led in ratings, clicks, views, and whatever other preferred metric for a while now. However, that doesn’t mean he’s very good.
On paper, he’s everything you’d want in a talk-show host: handsome, gregarious, and infinitely cheery. In practice, he and his show are repetitive, cheap, and comically lazy, undeserving of even the more modest praise awarded to talk shows for adults hosted by those like Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, or Conan O’Brien.
On Fallon’s watch, “The Tonight Show,” a piece of Americana once headlined by the comedic legend and genius Johnny Carson for almost 30 years, has now devolved into an endless, insipid smorgasbord of forgettable celebrity cameos and uneventful interviews. Part of this stems from a generation of viewers craving brief, sharable gimmicks instead of organically funny material that arises naturally from the dialog between host and guest. After all, why watch Colbert interview Anderson Cooper when you can watch Fallon model for a Kendall Jenner photo shoot or dance-battle Jennifer Lopez?
But to really see why Fallon and the producers of his show have emphasized these flashy game shows, one only has to suffer through Fallon attempting to do his actual job as a late-night talk show host: converse with his guests.
Without the props, background music, and structure provided by the writers who contrive his increasingly bizarre games, Fallon flounders helplessly during his discussions with guests. From talking excessively, despite having nothing to say, to frequently interrupting his guests to shower them with empty Trumpian superlatives, the host of “The Tonight Show” hardly ever has anything of value to add during the time talk show hosts normally shine.
And then there’s the excessive laughter—the awkward, inopportune, and seemingly forced laughter. The moment one of his guests says something even remotely funny, Fallon snaps his head back for a loud chuckle. The moment one of his guests says something truly humorous, Fallon awkwardly guffaws, clapping his hands like a caffeinated six-year old and drawing attention away from the guest and onto himself.
Perhaps worst of all, Fallon exhibits an untiring desire to flatter and fawn over each and every one of his guests. In the process, he avoids any pointed questions or possibility for confrontation with even the most controversial people. Unsurprisingly, this often backfires.
Take the ill-conceived episode featuring then-candidate Donald Trump. After minutes of pleasantries and general politeness, Fallon decided he wasn’t going to let the most divisive figure in American politics leave without one last request—to ‘mess up’ Trump’s hair. Trump consented, and Fallon proceeded to gleefully tousle the Republican nominee’s signature dyed hair.
To understand Fallon and his shtick, all one has to do is watch that segment. Congenitally unable to stir the slightest controversy or make his guests feel the smallest tinge of discomfort, the host of “The Tonight Show” has paled in comparison to his late-night peers. Like Fallon, both Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel had Trump on their respective shows, albeit much earlier in the election cycle than Fallon did. However, unlike Fallon, those two hosts verbally accosted Trump in their conversations. Kimmel strongly disputed the morality of Trump’s Muslim ban, while Colbert mocked Trump’s border wall idea and his claim that Obama wasn’t born in the U.S.
But God forbid Fallon, a mere two months before the election, ask Trump anything resembling a strong question. Put simply, Fallon gives the impression that if asked to give an opinion on something, he’d start crying—not just because he wouldn’t want to give his opinion, but because he doesn’t have any.
Many defenders of Fallon would argue that they embrace his diplomacy and that his refreshingly silly, apolitical material serves as an entertainment refuge from the overly politicized environment we now live in. But hiding shouldn’t be the solution, and other lighthearted late-night shows find a good mix between the political and the whimsical.
Because of his congenital aversion to anything controversial, Fallon falls well short of the other late-night hosts. His viewers receive none of the incisive humor of Colbert, the earthy, reachable humor of Kimmel, or the edgy but entertaining weirdness of a Conan.
Instead, his viewers are exposed to gimmick after gimmick, game after game, and celebrity cameo after celebrity cameo, all the while thinking, apparently, that this is good late-night television led by a funny late-night host.