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If Jimmy Fallon was tuckered out from Sunday’s night’s live Super Bowl special, he didn’t show it on Monday. Barely 18 hours after performing a frenzied, sweaty, pants-ripping lip sync battle for a thousand-plus crowd at Phoenix’s Orpheum Theatre, The Tonight Show host kicked off the first night of a week in Los Angeles with the enthusiasm his viewers have come to expect.
Taking up residency at NBCUniversal’s Studio 1, the same studio that briefly housed Conan O’Brien‘s Tonight tenure, Fallon welcomed Michael Keaton and Gwen Stefani — and a well-choreographed (albeit pre-taped) homage to The Fresh Prince of Bell Air.
It’s a homecoming of sorts. Tonight moved to New York for Fallon after a five-decade stint in L.A. But a West Coast version of his show was never in the cards. The 40-year-old comedian remains a vehement New Yorker. And while he’s spent time in L.A., it’s clear that he was never that attached. His cultural touchstone, as he explained during one of several California-themed bits on the episode, is the Gelson’s supermarket in Marina del Rey.
But his attempt to converse with a mostly local audience over something as minor as a grocery store is symptomatic of Fallon’s clear desire to relate to anyone on or around his show. The host’s penchant for personal connection compelled him to walk over to the audience when the cameras weren’t rolling to tell the crowd what he discussed with Keaton and Stefani while their mics weren’t hot. (Keaton, as evidenced by the broadcast, is not afraid of cursing on TV, and Fallon’s professed affection for Stefani’s band is not an act. He recalled two times when he drunkenly saw the band live, once embarrassing himself in front of No Doubt guitarist Tom Dumont‘s mother.)
Fallon’s glee for his job has not waned in the year since he took the gig at NBC’s flagship. He laughed his way through Monday’s taping, especially when he and Keaton read through lines from three Birdman scripts reimagined by elementary schoolers. And why shouldn’t he? His overnight ascension to become the de facto ratings king of late-night has been one of the smoothest transitions in recent TV memory.
It makes the choice of temporary venue kind of poetic. The tricked-out studio was originally designed for the next era of Tonight, one that the network didn’t get until five years after it originally anticipated. Now, if only for a few days, it will host a revolving door of bold-faced names such as Ellen DeGeneres, Will Smith, Carl Reiner and Jennifers Lopez and Hudson. Hopefully they’ll go easy on Fallon. If he gets as warm of a reception as he did Monday — or half of the rapturous welcome he saw in Arizona — maybe he’ll consider making this snowbird thing an annual event.
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The Fien Print
William Jackson Harper