I should let it go.I know. But I can’t, not when Jimmy Fallon’s latest viral sensation is literally the unfunniest thing that anyone in late-night has ever foisted on the American public. It’s a non-joke. It’s anti-humor. It’s a bit designed to elicit no greater reaction from audiences than an acknowledgement that they are, in fact, aware of the existence of something and the time period in which it was popular.
If you’re anywhere near Facebook, you’ve seen this thing today: Fallon and Jack Black, dressed as Gary Cherone and Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme, performing the band’s 1990 hit More Than Words in a shot-for-shot recreation of the song’s video. That’s it. There’s no punchline and there’s no surrealist bent to the joke, because there is no joke. The joke, I guess, is that Jack Black dressed as a guy from Extreme is funny. And Jimmy Fallon dressed like a guy from Extreme is funny. And, “Hey, that’s a video I remember and am fond of because the cheap nostalgia receptors of my brain have just been activated as if I were reading a Buzzfeed piece entitled ‘You Know You Were a Teenager in 1990 If…'”
A couple of weeks ago, one of the writers for Conan’s show went on a well-publicized Twitter rant against the state of late-night that was, for the most part, a direct attack on Jimmy Fallon. Andrés du Bouchet called out what he called “Prom King Comedy,” saying that late-night needed a shake-up and would be better with “no parodies, no pranks, no mash-ups.” He added, “Shove your lip-synching up your ass,” and “add games and lip synching and nostalgia and karaoke to this list.” He’s since deleted the tweets and the whole thing gained him an amusing knockdown from his boss, but overall he’s right about the state of comedy on late-night. I’m a fan of Kimmel because I think he does quite a few bits that really are clever, but with both Fallon and CBS’s Fallon clone, James Corden, doing nothing but engineering viral content, there’s very little in the way of real comedy left.
By comparison, take a look at the piece published in New York right now that looks back on some of the best rejected bits and jokes during David Letterman’s 33-year run on television. The article talks to the writers who came up with the ideas — writers who have since gone on to become some of the giants of comedy — and then runs their comments by Letterman himself to get his take on why he didn’t use them. Even the stuff that didn’t make air on Late Night and The Late Show was fucking brilliant. Some jokes were inspired; some were imaginative and absurdist; and some were completely over-the-top outrageous. What Letterman did for so long, bolstered by the writers behind him — Letterman says, “I was doing their show more than they were doing mine” — was groundbreaking. More than that, it was funny. It was almost always funny.
Granted there’s comedy to be found at your fingertips now. Late-night shows aren’t “necessary” anymore and they don’t have the cultural clout they used to, which is why Fallon’s trick to overcoming that problem is to make his shitty material ubiquitous on social media so that it isn’t a show anymore so much as a series of viral clips with a brand attached to it. Fallon is nothing more than a hyper-enthusiastic game show host who sings, does impressions and laughs at his own shtick. But late-night comedy can still matter. Even with the rise of the the digital age, there’s something powerful about that position in our cultural consciousness, with all its history and the memory of those who’ve occupied that hallowed comedic ground. It deserves better — and bolder — than this.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.