”You gotta pull it together man,” Andy Samberg, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon’s final guest, told his friend. “You’re moving up a time slot, across the hall, bigger stage, this is all good stuff!” Fallon, who has proven again in his last week before taking over The Tonight Show just what a gracious, big-hearted guy he is, agreed that he was a mess. “I’m an Irish mush!” he said. And bless him for it.
Fallon navigated the week with a sense of decency that was both unapologetic and generous. Three episodes were taped remembrances of the show’s best digital shorts (like “Jersey Floor”), musical performances (an acoustic version of “Blurred Lines” that somehow managed to rinse clean the scuzz of the song), and comedy bits (I could watch Matthew Broderick trying to make a taco with mannequin hands every night of the week). Meanwhile he was a sweet and respectful guest for Jay Leno, for long an easy butt of late night comedians but whom Fallon never shamed or undercut throughout this long transition.
I admit to feeling confused by Thursday’s penultimate show, as Fallon returned to his more traditional format. His monologue was pitch perfect, bowing down to The Tonight Show host of 22 years. “The ratings have been so good I think we’re going to have another week of saying goodbye to Jay Leno,” he said. ”It was Jay Leno’s last show tonight. That’s a bummer. I like that guy.” He paused to point out the obvious to the always excellent Steve Higgins. “I mean, in a way it’s good for me…” he said. Later Colin Farrell came on and seemed uncomfortable pitching his underwhelming Winter’s Tale. Chris Pratt seemed better suited to the sense of growing nostalgia in the studio. “Nice people deserve success,” Pratt told Fallon in his congratulations before the lot donned ridiculous bubble suits and played elevator soccer.
That’s where so much of the pleasure in watching Fallon is found. He’s game and a goof, completely lacking in cynicism and guile. When he’s playing the guitar next to Bruce Springsteen or hashtagging with Justin Timberlake he has the shiny glee of a kid let loose in a candy store. If this sounds like an unabashededly enthusiastic fan note maybe it’s because I’m writing about a man with such unabashed enthusiasm. The only thing clearer than how much Fallon loves what he gets to do for a living is how much he leans on and respects the people he gets to do it with. Towards the end of the show Higgins assured Fallon he was going to be great on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon. “You’re going to be so good because you’re nice, you’re sweet, you’re super hilarious and you are the best person on earth,” his friend said. “You are perfect for this job.”
In Late Night’s final moments, after Fallon’s low-key and tender performance of “The Weight” with the Muppets band, its host walked alone down the deserted hall of 6A. On the other side of the exit waited Fallon’s exuberant cast and crew. He jumped into their celebratory scrum as the door closed behind him. It was at once the perfect ending and an auspicious beginning.
There are so many great clips from Late Night but I also picked this weird one of Questlove throwing up because of Fallon’s stunned and delighted reaction. Fittingly it was one of the host’s favorite memories from 969 shows.