Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jimmy Fallon: Why Our Generation Needs His Show


            I bet you weren’t expecting to run into an article on Jimmy Fallon on this website. I have good reason though.

            Fallon knows his audience, and makes sure to keep his target demographic interested.  Not only is he the youngest current late night talk show host, his show is catered toward the youngest audience.  While not all fans may not like his spoof of the Jersey Shore, or the beer pong game, or something like “Spanx But No Spanx,” the point is that we get it.  I’d love to see Letterman try to toss a pong ball into a cup of beer with Ben Kingsley, but I’m not holding my breath.  Fallon is able to do all sorts of gag sketches and goofy bullshit, but his presentation and attitude are all so fun that no one minds. No matter what he does he’ll never take anything too seriously.   

Fallon has a few famous and influential pals from his SNL days, including (still-relevant) comedy icons like Will Ferrell, Amy Phoeler, Tina Fey, Bill Hader and more.  It’s always a delight to see these former SNL cast members get interviewed, but does anyone else feel like it doesn’t make a difference?  These are some of his best friends yet he has the same enthusiasm for when he interviews a Nickelodeon star.  Fallon seems to respect and admire EVERYONE.  He is grateful for his show and he always respects the career of the given guest.  Youtube sensation, animal expert, athlete, young artist, movie star, it doesn’t matter to Fallon.  It’s like he has been waiting his whole life to ask Dog the Bounty Hunter where he likes to eat breakfast, or how long Helen Mirren has been knitting for.  When it comes to the musical guests, he loves being ahead of the times.  He proudly holds up the vinyl for the artist, shouts excitedly when it’s a TV debut, and lets the music speak for itself, without taking too much credit.

Beyond the first couple of episodes (watching Fallon imitate Robert De Niro to his face was pretty rough) I’ve never seen an episode of Fallon that made me uncomfortable.  Conan is self-loathing and quite obviously depressed sometimes. Letterman is biting and sarcastic and, although very funny, I felt bad watching him verbally slaughter Paris Hilton after she got out of jail.  Kimmel, my runner up to Fallon, is a little flat sometimes, like he doesn’t quite care what is going on.  Craig Ferguson is too talkative, he interviews himself half the time, and his guests are never stellar.  Who even likes Leno at all? That’s what I thought. 

He has an incredible online presence (I barely ever watch the show on TV, it’s always Hulu for me).  With several million twitter followers, games like “Late Night Hashtags”, and all sorts of online/internet influenced sketches, he still doesn’t threaten the older generations.  He can have Sir Ian McKellan and De Niro playing pictionary and no one in the audience will think anything of it.  Followed by a sketch that is completely about Robert Pattinson (“Bothered with Robert Pattinson”), it makes total sense to the audience that Fallon can take the show in any direction, as long as there is a goofy moment coming up. 

            His “History of Rap” sketches are gorgeous. It’s been a long bumpy road trying to get rap in a comfortable place in American culture.  Fallon’s sketches make rap seem so jovial and historical that most of the audience couldn’t give a shit what song it is, as long as Jimmy and Justin Timerlake are hi-fiving while they sing it.  The other chunk of the audience, hip hop fans, are enthused when they hear the next snippet of 15 seconds come up, and they recognize it as a De La Soul or Rakim song.

His show is just about the only place on primetime that can get away with airing the TV debut Odd Future, dressed in ski masks and shouting about aborting babies and murder.  Odd Future bandmate Frank Ocean also made his TV debut on Fallon, and performed on SNL not long after.  Hardcore legends Refused had never performed on network TV until Fallon gave them the slot.  ASAP Rocky, Neon Indian, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Danny!, Grimes, Kendrick Lamar, Joey Badass, and tons more have made their network TV debuts on Fallon, and I’m sure none of those acts will soon forget it.

            Who are we kidding? The Roots are the reason for this article.  They get at least 50% of the credit for the show’s success, and Fallon will be the first to admit it.  Nearly every guest makes some sort of gracious comment, dance, bow, acknowledgement to the Roots as they walk on stage. 

            I wasn’t the only one scratching my head when I heard that: a) Jimmy Fallon was getting his own talk show, and b) the Roots were going to be the house band.  Why? Why would Fallon be the top choice?  He’s the dude who ruined most of his SNL sketches, made a few awful movies, and disappeared for a while.  And why would the Roots kill their careers so early? This surely must mean they can’t tour, make new music, expand their careers, etc.  I was so fucking wrong.  Fallon has proved to be a fantastic host, becoming very comfortable in his place as the years go on, breaking late night boundaries and redefining the layout for future late night shows.  Fallon goes where other shows don’t, not in a shocking way, in a modern way.  His incorporation of music makes the show twenty times better than other late night shows, not to mention he turns to Questlove and Black Thought every few minutes for a sketch. 

            The Roots have released two of their best albums since being Fallon’s house band.  They still plays shows all over the place, doubling up their schedules and truly living up to their title as the hardest working band in late night.  Questlove is producing a handful of new albums, Black Thought is still getting features on other rappers’ songs, and the Roots have become the quintessential New York band, headlining every festival that comes to town, and bringing thousands of fans everywhere they go. 

            I’m willing to bet everything I own that Questlove is responsible for a large portion of the show’s musicality.  Either he is making the decisions, or he is the one making it happen.  As the bandleader, Questo is the one organizing every transition between commercials, choosing the intro music (remember when he played Fishbone’s “Lyin Ass Bitch” for Michelle Bachman, and no one really gave a fuck? G), planning music-based sketches, etc.  He is the second face of the show.  I like Higgins, but I feel as though Questo makes a much better sidekick.  The Roots have Slow-Jammed the News with Barack Obama, staged the Air Drum Challenge, backed Sing It Like You Mean it for audience members, and performed on-the spot songs for Freestylin with the Roots. 

            They back every performer they can.  If the artist playing at the end of the show will allow it, the Roots will play as their band.  Some of the more exciting examples were Odd Future’s “Sandwiches”, “What’cha Want” with the Beastie Boys, “Straight Outta Compton” with Ice Cube, and about 400 more.  They’ve backed everyone from Beyonce, to Julian Casablancas, to Nas, to James Murphy to Carly Rae Jepsen. They never sound out of place. Their sketches are always welcome, they are adored by all.  Who gets that kind of reputation nowadays? 

            The marriage of comedy and hip hop has never been so pure.  The Roots are a very straightforward and respectable hip hop act.  They don’t make thug or pop rap, nor do they consider themselves underground royalty like other rappers who don’t make the top 40.  They are an album sort of band, people generally remember the full album titles rather than the individual songs.  They are musicians, advancing the genre with intricate rhythms and an ever-present live band vibe, making the sound wholesome and complete, something DJ sets and mic-only rap performances lack.  Fallon is a lovable and innocent comedian.  He doesn’t make dirty sex jokes, or force his guests to tell inappropriate stories, he is a straightforward and family friendly comedian.  The combination of a respectable and genre-defining band, with a humble and friendly comedian results in a warm and merry take on a TV genre that has become too stale and repetitive. 

            It’s simply fun to watch.  The fact that Fallon can giggle through any sketch unscathed, and that if he does manage to disappoint, the Roots are always there to pick up the slack.  It is truly the best and most efficient mutual relationship in late-night history.