Can Jimmy Fallon Avoid Partisan Land Mines?

Can Jimmy Fallon Avoid Partisan Land

First Lady's appearance leads host into political thicket

Johnny Carson first and subsequently Jay Leno both appeared to pride themselves on the even-handed nature of their monologues, picking off political targets from both parties, to the point where viewers never knew — by design — where “The Tonight Show” hosts personally stood.

With Jimmy Fallon having replaced Leno this week, the question arises whether he, too, can position himself as the comedic equivalent of Switzerland, especially in these heavily polarized and wildly partisan times, where every aside is pored over and potentially pounced on. As proof, look no further than a piece posted this week by one of Carson’s former writers, arguing that latenight comics were giving President Obama a pass.

Fallon has thus far offered relatively few political jokes in his first week at the “Tonight” helm (he delivered exactly one, a glancing shot at Vice President Joe Biden, in Thursday’s monologue), unless one chooses to count the Russian hockey team being shipped off to Siberia for losing in the Olympics. On Thursday, though, he hosted First Lady Michelle Obama, with whom he previously created a viral-video sensation called “The Evolution of Mom Dancing.”

The latest appearance went a step further, with Mrs. Obama joining Fallon and Will Ferrell in a Nickelodeon parody, even if the skit — pretty awful and interminable — conveniently gave her a chance to promote her children’s fitness message, which was also featured during her interview.

Fallon did gently turn the conversation to the Affordable Care Act, asking why the young people who watch his show should sign up. But that quickly gave way to a lightning round of questions about “firsts” in which the First Lady had participated, which — despite her gameness in playing along — was every bit as dull as that sounds.

Frankly, strictly from a promotional standpoint, hosting the First Lady should be a coup for Fallon in this getting-to-know-you period. Yet given the deep-seated antipathy toward the Obama administration in certain precincts, even non-controversial campaigns associated with the administration — such as the First Lady’s initiative trying to get kids to eat better and exercise more — have triggered attacks from conservative media figures.

Either way, Fallon is going to be closely watched for signs of his politics — especially with David Letterman having dispensed with any pretense of impartiality, expressing thinly veiled disdain for the current state of the Republican Party (and Sarah Palin in particular); and “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart (while hardly giving Obama a free ride) invariably more likely to skew conservatives.

Fallon’s opening frame has characterized him as a pretty innocuous host in that regard, one who seems committed to being on good terms with everybody. As for whether that can continue in today’s environment, well, let’s just say he had better keep brushing up on his dancing skills.

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  1. gnadfly says:

    Fallon is just not very funny.

  2. TheBigBangOf20thCenturyPopCulture says:

    Fallon is an manic improv style comic and not an easy interview talk show host. So the show has to be all about him and his skits and not his guests. This is the polar opposite of the show Carson made an institution. Best Jimmy can do is to turn the Tonight Show into SNL lite. Once kids realize the show is speed to keep them at night, they’ll return to their web gadgets to wind down and get some shut eye.

  3. sharihodges says:

    My kids are not knuckleheads. They’re a lot smarter than you with your cancelled Bar license.

  4. Frank says:

    He won’t last a year

  5. I like Jimmy Fallon. I think he’s an extremely talented, hardworking and deserving individual. He’s perfect for the job, which is not to further the agendas of political parties, but to continue lulling mainstream American sheeple into their nightly consumer comas, and to (better than Leno did) co-opt for his corporate handlers any potentially disruptive social initiatives that might threaten their business interests. So far, it looks as if he’s right on track. Here’s a song for his band, which is just as talented, hardworking and deserving, and just as surely being used to keep us smiling, culturally homogenized and contented to remain in our little boxes:

  6. Scooter says:

    “,,,pretty innocuous host” indeed. Fallon has about as much edge on him as my butter knife. Makes for remarkably bland television viewing.

  7. that skit was so awful i had to change the channel. When i came back later, the interview with Michelle Obama was so banal, i turned the television off and went to bed.

  8. CWW says:

    “Fallon is going to be closely watched for signs of his politics”

    What, like he just fell out of the sky to land behind the Tonight Show desk? He has an established history already. Do people think he’s actually going to suddenly be “impartial” as the story alludes?

    What are his politics?

    The answer lies in the First Lady greeting him personally and welcoming Fallon to his new job. Just to play along.

  9. Steve Szymanski says:

    Second appearance by First Lady in just a few short months; first of all the decorum of the office of the Presidency is being tarnished. FLOTUS makes office seem unpolished. I’m disappointed in Jimmy; he could have continued his run of good guests during his opening week, but instead coos over Michelle Obama? Really? Time to bring some respect back to the White House – love the show Jimmy, but tread lightly on your political views.

  10. David says:

    Jay Leno invited a Republican to announce his candidacy for Governor of California on his show. And Leno attacked Obama’s *policies*, whereas he mostly just mocked Bush’s personality as a “loveable goofball” archetype. Leno was about as non-partisan as Bill O’Reilly.

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