Last night, Jimmy Fallon’s third show was by far his best yet. He was ad-libbing more easily (talking with guest Cameron Diaz about being a diva on Sesame Street, he spontaneously invented the new “Don’t Look At Me, Elmo” doll) and I chuckled at his new gesture when a monologue joke actually gets a laugh–he mimes bowling a strike.
Sure, still too much young-and-with-it awkwardness: reading Diaz questions from Twitter users? How Barbara Walters of you, Jimmy! The dance-off with Diaz was kind of fun, if a little too opening-of-every-Ellen De Generes-show. But overall, a definite improvement.
Meanwhile, Craig Ferguson’s guest last night was Archbishop Desmond Tutu, not exactly a mainstay of late-night entertainment. Ferguson’s conversation with the clergyman was by turns serious, funny, and sometimes both simultaneously (“When you don’t forgive, frequently you feel it in your tum-tum,” said the Archbishop, patting his own tummy) as they talked about race, God, good and evil. And nagging wives. All without reading from cue cards or notes. “I think you’re crazy!” Tutu chuckled at one point. Craig also told an excellent chess joke involving bishops.
Now, I am not for a second suggesting that late-night hosts should start booking more serious guests to boost their cred — even Ferguson said this hour contained “all the stuff that you don’t come to the show for.” Nor am I saying Fallon was the lesser host for yukking it up with Diaz while Ferguson chatted up a Nobel Peace Prize winner. These guys both make their living being, as Craig described himself last night, “a vulgar lounge entertainer.”
What I am saying is that Ferguson did a damn fine job interviewing Bishop Tutu without being intimidated or fawning, and in so doing, demonstrated the range of tones and subject matter that can be addressed on late-night TV to which Fallon can only aspire. No, I’m not sitting here hoping Fallon books the Archbishop of Canterbury on his show to demonstrate his chops and competitiveness (although, Jimmy, there’s a goldmine of comedy in all that some-churches-seceding-from-the-church thing going on in the Episcopal church).
But every time a late-night host stretches a little, whether it was Ferguson last night, or when David Letterman made his recent public apology to the late Bill Hicks’ mother as she sat next to him, these late nights get a little warmer, a little more nourishing, a little more welcoming.