If you’re anywhere near Facebook today you’ve likely seen the clip of Jimmy Fallon and Paul Rudd performing, almost note for note and shot for shot, a recreation of the video for Styx’s “Too Much Time on My Hands.” Like his equally vapid recreation of Extreme’s “More Than Words” video with Jack Black last year, this latest affront to comedy is nothing more than a non-joke. Anti-humor. 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. Given the entirely predictable viral success of Fallon’s newest treacly stunt, we figured it was a good idea to bring this article back from February of last year as a reminder to please, for the love of all that’s holy, stop the madness.
In June of last year, I wrote a piece that has somehow managed to stay, on and off, within the top 20 items at this site in terms of traffic since the day it was published. Huge viral hits have come and gone and stories with day-of news pegs have dominated and then fallen away, but the little column that could just keeps right on chugging along. In fact, the piece seems to have taken on new life recently, edging its way even further up in the numbers from where it usually hangs out. I can only assume this is because more and more people are sharing it because more and more people are opening their eyes to — and getting on board with — its central argument. This is a good thing for America, I hope, since the column I’m talking about was called “Can We Admit That Jimmy Fallon Kind of Sucks?”
What I said in that piece was pretty tame and the views I expressed about Fallon were relatively even-handed. I said that while there’s no doubt Fallon was the perfect choice to inherit The Tonight Show from a revenue standpoint, which is really all that matters to NBC, his shtick is so unfailingly benign and so painfully devoid of any sort of artistic edge that it barely qualifies as comedy. His “sketches,” if they can be called that, aim strictly for the childlike surprise and dopey nostalgia receptors in the brain, with the amusement to be gleaned from watching him and his guests play games, dance and sing, and otherwise recall beloved touchstones from Gen-X and Millennial culture apparently being a limitless commodity. He has one speed: cloying and cutesy. He’s a walking Excited Kermit Arm Flail. Yes, he’s at the top of the late-night pile by a light year and you can’t really argue with the fact that he’s found a working formula, but still, maybe you can — because he sucks.
The key to Fallon’s overwhelming success — that working formula — is viral transmission. The Tonight Show has basically become a living, breathing Upworthy, with Fallon carefully and manipulatively crafting at least one moment each night guaranteed to be shared all over social media the next day. This is where his genius lies, as well as his pure, unadulterated evil: You can’t escape him. If you use the internet at all, you simply can’t detach yourself from Jimmy Fallon’s infuriating insipidity, no matter how hard you try. It’s everywhere. It trends every day. And this is why it’s time to take the gloves off and demand that people stop sharing every stupid, silly fucking thing that Fallon does on Tonight.
There’s a reason I’m bringing this up right now. Maybe being that we’re in the middle of February sweeps, the past week has stood as a flawless representation of the entire Fallon motif. We’re talking Peak Fallon. In one week, we’ve seen him unforgivably sully Neil Young’s Old Man by performing it live alongside the real Neil Young while dressed as his Neil Young “character.” We’ve seen him reunite the cast of Saved By the Bell, in a move that’s sure to have lifted your spirits if you weren’t able to get tickets to that big New Kids on the Block reunion tour. We watched him recreate the opening credits of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And then, last night, he invited the actual star of that show, Will Smith, on and together they performed Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock’s It Takes Two. In other words, if you were born at any point between, say, 1950 and 1980, there was something on The Tonight Show this week you could point to and say, presumably with a smile, “Hey, I’m aware of that thing’s existence.”
Now there’s no doubt that Jimmy Fallon has no choice but to make his show almost exclusively about these kinds of dumb gimmicks. He has to do this because he’s just not funny. He wasn’t funny on Saturday Night Live and he isn’t funny now. He’s both a corporate lapdog for NBC and a cultural lapdog for America, never unwilling to curl up in front of our televisions and computers and beg for the affection of every single one of us. There’s no point beneath which Fallon won’t stoop to endear himself to as big an audience as he can. And while the size of that audience is indeed huge, because Fallon embraces the notion of broadcasting, in the age of social media it means that whether you like it or not, you have to put up with him. You’re part of that audience even if you don’t want to be.
In the 1999 movie Go, drug dealer Todd Gaines — played by Timothy Olyphant — talks about his loathe for the comic strip The Family Circus. When he’s asked why he hates it, he replies that he can’t help but be drawn to it, saying, “You sit down and read your paper, and you’re enjoying your entire two-page comics spread. Right? And then there’s the Family fucking Circus, bottom right-hand corner, just waiting to suck.” That’s what Jimmy Fallon’s bits are on social media: They’re the Family fucking Circus, just sitting there waiting to suck. What makes them far more insidious, though, is that none of your friends on Facebook shares The Family Circus along with a message that reads, “OMG!!! You have to see this!!!” and there aren’t 600 BuzzUpViralWorthyNovaRoxxFeed websites insisting on trying to turn today’s Family Circus into an actual story in the name of a few cheap clicks. Our entire media nation, however, seems to have decided that Fallon’s gimmicks are human interest items worth circulating in the name of bringing a smile to your face.
In my original piece, I said that there’s still time for Jimmy Fallon to develop something more than a one-note repertoire. But upon further reflection, he doesn’t actually have that much time, not if he wants to be assured of any longevity. The shtick he’s doing right now is ultimately doomed by the passage of time, since it’s impossible to see him being able to pull this kind of thing off as he gets further into middle-age and beyond. Wry and offbeat or classy age well; insuppressible eagerness, cheap nostalgia, a writing staff of apparent Thought Catalogers and laughing at your own material doesn’t. The latter is about all we’ve gotten so far from Fallon. And I’m just not sure he’s capable of anything else for the simple reason that he’s not a comedian or even a broadcaster. He’s just a game show host who does impressions.
But still, we have to deal with him in the here and now. He may go away eventually, but for the time being he’s unavoidable. He doesn’t have to be, though. You can do something about him. You can stop sharing his crap and stop clicking onto posts that simply regurgitate whatever stunts he pulls. In the name of all that’s good and holy, you have to do this. We’re all counting on you. Because I was wrong — Jimmy Fallon doesn’t kind of suck, he totally sucks. So please, help end the sucking.