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Jimmy Fallon, Number-One Musical Late-Night Host

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A confession: unless I’m specifically watching a late-night show to review it, it’s been ages since I’ve sat down and watched an episode of one, live, from beginning to end, and as long as I have a DVR, I’m not sure I ever will. (Exception: sometimes, The Daily Show and Colbert.)

So I usually don’t have a “favorite” late-night show so much ones that I’ll rely on for certain specialties. I’ll often skip Conan’s monologue, but he still has some of the best prepared comedy bits. Letterman, I may watch only for the monologue. Craig Ferguson, I’ll fast-forward to a particular interview or monologue run that I heard was sharp.*

And Jimmy Fallon? I was skeptical of him when his show started, but even if I might not say he’s the best late-night host out there, he’s currently the one I have the best time watching. It’s not his monologue (no more of a draw for me than Conan’s). It’s not necessarily his comedy bits (though some, like his Downton Sixbey spoof, absolutely kill). Mostly it’s just the infectious sense of enjoyment he gets from, and gives to his show. And a big part of that is his use of music.

Late-night shows, especially late-late-night shows, have long been important for exposing and breaking bands. But from the get-go, Fallon has done an exceptional job of fully integrating music in every aspect of his entertainment. Part of that was his brilliant choice of The Roots as house band; they’ve become accompanyists, co-conspirators and a kind of musical Greek chorus.

And there is, famously, how well he’s integrated music with his comedy itself: from his History of Rap performances to singing “Whip My Hair” with Springsteen (as Neil Young) to Slow-Jamming the News to a toy-instrument duet with Carly Rae Jepsen long after I thought any “Call me Maybe” video could amuse me anymore. (Fallon recently released  a music compilation, Blow Your Pants Off, from the show.)

Unusually—but totally in character for his show—Fallon doesn’t generally do song parodies. Most of his most memorable music-comedy segments are animated more by a spirit of play: not, “Look how funny this song is!” but “Look how funny it is that I’m doing this song!” Where many hosts post-Letterman have conveyed a sense of acid snarkiness, or Carson did detached cool, Fallon trades more in eagerness and wonder, and he fits his music to those lyrics. He doesn’t make fun (of his subjects), he makes fun (with his subjects).

Then there are his straight-up musical acts, well-curated, well-backed by The Roots and increasingly well-positioned: see Frank Ocean, who went on Fallon this week as he digitally released his new album. Here too, the show benefits from Fallon’s character; his enthusiasm for music makes the performances seem like more than tacked-on segments in which the host’s main role is simply to point his arm and step back. I can’t say Jimmy Fallon is The King of Late-Night yet. But he’s got a good beat, and I can dance to him.

*[Update: I didn’t mean this to be a comprehensive list, but I should also mention Jimmy Kimmel, who’s become probably the most purely funny guy in late night when he’s on, though I’m not wild about his interviews. And Leno? Guy knows his cars!]

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Rupert Edgar
Rupert Edgar

Jimmy is possibly the best and most talented  prime time and late night host of all time. I was happy to find out, while reading Mo Ostins induction to the rock and roll hall of fame piece, that my friend Michael Ostin signed you. He is incredibly loyal, he his brother Randy and I went to the Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin first american tour concert. Mo signed Tull and after their set Michael went back stage to congratulate them on a great show. He found out there was a king of battle between them and before the end of Zeppelin set he came back to his seat and insisted we all leave. Well Randy and I were just a little shocked and high but Mike was insistent so we left early. That concert was the best I had seen to date. Ian Anderson was like from a mother planet the was he moved across the stage with his interesting outfit and powerful flute playing. I'm sorry Mike but Zeppelin was even better. The only shows I saw that equaled or surpassed were the Stones Sticky Fingers Tour and Paul Simon's Graceland. Jimmy I am a big fan and have noticed how great you dress, your ties are always tied to the same length and crimped below the not the same way. I worry about you maybe being just a little anal. Say high to Mike from Leon Edgar and pass on my sympathies for his loss of his brother Kenny and please have him also pass on my sympathies to his mother Evelyn and father Mo and Randy. Horrible to loose a child, words can't express.

André Dias
André Dias

Jimmy Fallon's incorporation of music in (most) of his segments is the main reason to watch him. The time he hosted Emmys was in my opinion one of the most well-executed Emmy ceremonies of the last few years. Let's see what Kimmel does this year...

Still, I could not help notice that the other reason for Fallon's success is his involvment with the audience and the way he shows he's having fun when interacting with them. When he laughs, he laughs WITH the crowd and not FROM the crowd.

Sara Stricherz
Sara Stricherz

I too love Jimmy Fallon and the Roots, but the fact the writer said he watches Letterman for the monologue and not the INTERVIEWS makes me doubt his entire piece.  Letterman's monologue is nothing to write home about, but his interviews are always the best of his contemporaries.

Adriana Guerra
Adriana Guerra

I'm a fan of Jimmy Fallon since his first show on SNL when the news that Jimmy was taking over Late Night I was beyond excited

From the start he wanted to have the fans/viewers involved in the show using the internet with twitter and a video blog even asking to help him chose the chair he now uses on the show, and he continues to reach to his viewers...Because of this, fans feel part of the show.

Jimmy's excitement is so contagious you can't help but to feel excited as well

Late Night is my favorite show to watch at night, it always makes me relax and laugh after long day at work.

Jimmy manages to bring the best in people, he is kind and it shows, plus he always has his inner-child on his sleeve before, during and after the show

I can’t wait to see Jimmy continue to grow as a late night host..

people seem to forget that Carson also started very young and it took him years to become the host we all know and loved today. - Dri

anon76returns
anon76returns

I've been a fan of Fallon since the late 90s, and have always loved the Roots.  However, I watched an episode a couple months back to see Colbert as guest, and comedy-wise it was unwatchable.  I like the guy, and if he's found an audience that likes his style I think it's great.  But if that audience exists I'm definitely not a member of it.

Molly
Molly

I've always loved Jimmy Fallon, and I think I was one of the few people out there who was thrilled (rather than confused or skeptical) to hear he got the Late Night gig.  Even on SNL, you always got the sense that he just loved what he was doing - so much so sometimes that you could see him try to not crack up in the middle of a scene.  I don't watch late night TV, but I love catching clips of what he's doing now, and I'm glad he seems to have won a lot of people over.