Last night, Jimmy Fallon debuted his new version of Late Night. His cold opening featured a bit with Conan O’Brien, while it was funny, much of the rest of the show wasn’t. There was a bit that featured audience members licking random objects – a lawnmower, an all-in-one printer, and a fishbowl – for ten bucks; and an incredibly stilted, uncomfortable interview with Robert De Niro among other things.
From the opening monologue, through the comedy bit, and until the end of the interview with De Niro, Fallon seemed incredibly nervous. The monologue Fallon delivered at the opening of the night featured him shifting in place, hopping from one foot to the other, and with some relatively poor delivery of the jokes. His “slow jamming the news” bit, where he and The Roots did a slow jam song to discuss issues with Obama’s bailout bill, caused at least one laugh out loud moment, and certainly appeared to be something that could have a bright long term future on the show.
Again, Fallon was definitely nervous during the bit, but, as I pointed out yesterday, he ought to have been nervous. The question ought not be how scared was Fallon, but how much of a glimmer of hope for a better, brighter future for Fallon was there.
There, I think the answer is pretty positive for NBC, Fallon, and Late Night. For his second interview of the night, Fallon interviewed Justin Timberlake, and that interview went far better than his chat with De Niro. Timberlake and Fallon worked together on Saturday Night Live, so the two knew each other previously, and as big a singer as he is, Timberlake doesn’t have the same cultural icon status that De Niro does.
The chat between Timberlake and Fallon may have been a little too much “inside baseball,” with a lot of references to the twos’ previous work together, but they were able to strike up a rapport, and Fallon was visibly far less nervous there. I think that the Timberlake interview, and Fallon’s level of comfort with it, is a better reference point than the De Niro interview or his first monologue.
Fallon is, of course, a comedy guy, so some may find his nervousness with the monologue distressing; after all, he’s assuredly done stand-up before and certainly delivered more than one bit of comedy on Saturday Night Live. Fallon had great delivery and timing on the “Weekend Update” segment of SNL, and I’m sure that it was those segments that convinced some of the folks at NBC that Fallon could handle the Late Night gig.
Nerves are nerves, Fallon will get past those nerves, he’ll settle down. He’s familiar with live television, he’s familiar with comedy, and he showed last night with Timberlake that he can (or at least will be able to more regularly) conduct a good interview.
In short, there was nothing truly brilliant about last night, but it did appear that all the necessary pieces were there for Fallon to have a good run hosting the show. He just needs to breathe and to be given the time to take that breath.