In a self-moderated panel on Tuesday, Jimmy Fallon and a collection of his creative team sat down on the “Tonight Show” stage at 30 Rock to drive home their mission statement: to have fun and provide “an escape” for their audience during a particularly turbulent time.
“There’s a lot of sad news we could talk about,” Fallon acknowledged. But what he hopes “The Tonight Show” can do is “help people get away from it.”
The FYC Writers Guild panel also included director Dave Diomedi, Digital Media Director Julie Harrison-Harney, writer Arthur Meyer, head writer Amy Ozols, and producers Mike DiCenzo, Gerard Bradford, and Katie Hockmeyer. All emphasized that they view “The Tonight Show” as a true variety show, complete with creative musical acts and the parlor games that first made Fallon’s version of “The Tonight Show” stand out. When Fallon, acting as moderator, asked what their “craziest show” was, an April show featuring Serena Williams throwing axes, Priyanka Chopra eating Skittles, David Blaine sewing his mouth shut, and the Avengers singing a satirized version of “The Brady Bunch” theme was the first to come to mind as a particularly good example of how much the show takes on.
“When we first started doing ‘Late Night,’ no one was really doing that,” said Fallon of the wacky games that have now earned the show both critical wariness and huge online success. “Now it’s more common.”
“Once one person does it, more feel comfortable doing it,” agreed Ozols.
One celebrity the “Tonight Show” team raved about being particularly game was Cardi B, the endlessly charismatic rapper who became Fallon’s first co-host in April. “I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone like Cardi B,” laughed Fallon, later saying he was thrilled to give her personality a platform when “a lot of mainstream America only knew [her] for ‘Bodak Yellow.'” He also revealed that Cardi B’s “Tonight Show” interview from last December inspired Amazon to hire her for its Super Bowl commercial, in which the Alexa loses her voice and needs celebrity replacements.
But over and over again, the “Tonight Show” team mostly underlined their enthusiasm for making people feel good, pointing to moments like Fallon visiting fans at home in Minneapolis and bringing on New York City’s Girl Scout Troop for homeless youth. And lest these sound like the kind of scenes more suited to a political campaign than a talk show, Fallon greeted a question about whether he’d ever run for president with a resounding nope, joking, “you think it’s bad now…”
Even though they pointed out that Fallon makes topical jokes in his monologue, the “Tonight Show” team didn’t shy away from the fact that they’re far less interested in tackling the news onslaught that feeds other late night shows. (Like, for example, Stephen Colbert’s far more political “Late Show,” which has been beating “The Tonight Show” in the ratings for months, though Fallon maintains a slight edge in the adults 18-49 demographic.)
“Sometimes it’s hard to find a joke when the news is so sad and weird,” said Fallon, “but that’s our job.” And when asked what he’s looking forward to in 2018, Fallon took just a moment before answering with a shrug and a grin: “just more fun.”