I remember when Jimmy Fallon took over for Conan O’Brien on NBC’s Late Night in 2009.
I was a die-hard Conan fan throughout my high school and college years, so my brain was still tuned into putting on NBC at 12:35 a.m. Of course, this was before I worked and had the stamina to regularly stay up until 3 or 4 a.m. every night (Also known as: the Glory Days).
What I also remember vividly, upon watching Fallon, was how often I found myself cringing at the show. Being a variety show host is an extremely unique job that few experience — and even fewer master — so a learning curve is obviously expected. No one
should ever watch the first show with a new host and form a final judgment.
But I gave him a few months. I think that’s more than enough time. I just couldn’t take it anymore. His delivery was off, his sketches were lackluster, and his interviews were almost robotic. In other words, he was no Conan.
I think I even started watching Craig Ferguson for a short while after that, and gained a bit of an appreciation for him and his odd sense of humor. But then, as time elapsed, I started to do the whole working thing, and began phasing out these late night programs altogether. Subconsciously, I also said to myself that Fallon would not last very long.
But then something changed. Fallon started to find his niche: musical impressions.
I’m fairly certain it all began in July 2012, when he sang “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” while impersonating the appearance and vocal stylings of Neil Young. The video became an overnight sensation, and just like that, Fallon had people’s attention.
After that, he did vocal impersonations out the wazoo, while busting out viral videos like Kate Gosselin does babies. Another instant classic was his duet with Rashida Jones in December 2012, changing the words of popular songs to incorporate holiday themes. The pair followed it up last December, this time adding Carrie Underwood.
But what really put him over the top was teaming up with Justin Timberlake to form the ultimate bromance. Already a well-respected artist, Timberlake only helped to solidify Fallon’s credibility. The two performed medleys, comedy sketches and it all culminated when they co-hosted Saturday Night Live together on Dec. 21.
Now Fallon can do no wrong. He even had his own two-hour special on NBC on Jan. 5, showcasing all of the comedy sketches and performances he’s done in his four-plus years on the job. Not even Conan had one of those, and he hosted the show for 16 years.
And last night, he did it again.
This whole bridge scandal has become a mockery at this point for Gov. Chris Christie, and Fallon channeled that hilarity into a parody of “Born to Run” featuring Bruce Springsteen himself. Watch.
At this point, Fallon is pretty much universally beloved, and you have to give him a lot credit for the turnaround. On Feb. 17, he will take his schtick to the Mecca of late night variety programming when he becomes the new host of the Tonight Show. And he may very well end up being the best host of our generation.
And here’s a fun fact for you — a few years ago I attended a Late Night with Jimmy Fallon taping, with guests of David Duchovny, Kimbo Slice and a musical performance by the Dirty Projectors. At the end of the show, Jimmy ran into the crowd and high-fived the audience. I stuck out my hand and … he ignored me.
I never forget, Jimmy.
(I had forgotten about it until five minutes ago.)