Culture Vulture: Jimmy Fallon


As far as late night talk-show hosts go, Jimmy Fallon is something else. At first, he appears like a breath of fresh air. Games like the whisper challenge, wheel of freestyle and lip-sync battle (before it got big and became its own show on Spike) are fun and new — it’s safe to say that we hadn’t seen a late night host engage celebrities in that way before. And for a while that blinds you into thinking Jimmy Fallon is a great late night host when in actuality he is not. 

SNL, as many people know Fallon from (particularly co-anchoring “Weekend Update” with Tina Fey and for breaking character quite a lot), was a major dream for him. According to his Vanity Fair interview, Fallon’s love of comedy led him to drop out of college to pursue standup gigs until he finally got his chance to audition to for SNL at 24; he stayed on the cast for six years. 

Leaving SNL in 2004 gave Fallon room to expand his acting and comedy to new heights, though none of his major films did very well. In Vanity Fair, Fallon said that SNL creator Lorne Michaels pushed him to take onLate Night with Jimmy Fallon in 2009. Then when Jay Leno left the Tonight Show in 2014, Fallon took his place.

Although he does know how to make a celebrity have fun, interviewing is not one of his strong suits.  He is definitely no Graham Norton, who knows how to have easy, playful banter with his guest, nor is he comparable to the late, great and still alive David Letterman, a quick-witted host who wasn’t afraid to ruffle feathers. 

Fallon interrupts his guests by inserting his own thoughts, which sometimes derails the conversation. It’s frustrating watching him talk over people, instead of letting them finish their stories. As an interviewer, it is his job to listen as he engages his guest and to offer input only when necessary. 

Sometimes, the guest is just talking about something completely normal like their dog, or they tell a moderately funny joke, and Fallon laughs like it’s the funniest thing he has ever heard — hand slamming on a desk, body shaking, head thrown so far forward you worry he might pull something kind of laugh. And you pause your video wondering, “Was it really that funny, Jimmy?” (Spoiler Alert: it wasn’t). It’s the type of laugh where the person knows the joke isn’t funny, but they want the other person to feel good about themselves. And while that is sweet, it quickly becomes rather disingenuous and even dangerous. Because if Fallon is having a great time with them, they can’t be all that bad, right? Wrong. 

Many criticized Fallon for his controversial interview with Donald Trump, where he humanized a man who has made racist, Islamophobic and sexist statements, among other things. By having him on the show, joking around and ruffling Donald’s hair, Fallon is erasing all the horribleness of Trump, and that feels offensive. 

Fallon responded to this criticism to TMZ, stating, “I’m never too hard on anyone. We’ll have Hillary [Clinton] on tomorrow, and we’ll do something fun with her too.” 

As an interviewer, it’s okay to want to be neutral, but don’t act buddy-buddy with a bad person. It is not Fallon’s job to make everyone likeable, because not everyone is. As a late night host, Fallon has a greater responsibility to his audience than to his guests. If he makes a racist, Islamophobic and sexist person seem fun, then he’s telling the audience that he finds that behavior okay and that they should too. 

And look what happens then.