Why Did We Stop Liking Jimmy Fallon? (We Have 4 Theories)
Did you know there was a time when people liked Jimmy Fallon? No, seriously! When he took over The Tonight Show in 2014, ratings shot up with a surge of younger viewers who’d grown tired of Jay Leno’s jokes about O.J. Simpson and Monica Lewinsky. For the first few years of his rein, the Emmy Awards annually nominated Fallon's show for Best Variety Talk Series (an honor that he hasn’t seen since 2017).
Even the reviews were kind -- The New York Times called him “the class clown with top grades and a good heart,” a host who appealed to a new generation without alienating the older one.
But then, the bottom fell out. Today, you can google “Jimmy Fallon hate” and soak in the loathing. There’s a whole suburb on Reddit devoted to dissing the guy.
The one-time darling of late night lost his ratings lead in 2017 to The Late Show with Steven Colbert; now he regularly runs third behind Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Fallon knows he has a problem. On his fifth anniversary show, he goofed with celebrity guests who hated on him and his puffy face. Tina Fey accused him of getting Trump elected.
So what exactly did Jimmy do to deserve all this -- burn down your little brother’s treehouse? Strangle a bunch of puppies? Imitate Chris Rock in blackface? (OK, he actually did that one.) Let’s examine four theories why America chose Jimmy Fallon as its collective comedy punching bag.
Fallon ‘normalized’ Trump.
Fey was only half-kidding when she joked that Fallon got Trump elected in 2016. Jimmy got hella blowback when he had Trump as a guest a few weeks before the election, yukking it up and even tousling that famous orange combover. Anything approaching a conversation about controversies or policies? Nope.
Fallon defended himself as an apolitical guy who never asks difficult questions. “It’s just not what I do,” he said after the election. “I think it’d be weird for me to start doing it now.”
As why-we-hate theories go, this is a pretty convincing one as far as the timeline. Fallon’s ratings fall happened right around the time of the election, and Colbert definitely picked up steam when he leaned into his criticism of the administration. If nothing else, Fallon’s “we’re all show biz friends!” vibe made his fellow comedians itchy.
“I can only tell you what I would have done in that situation,” says elder statesman Dave Letterman. “I would have gone to work on Trump.”
Samantha Bee was less kind. She used a Full Frontal monologue to take Fallon and his network to the woodshed. "NBC tacitly condoned a race-baiting demagogue," she said, referring specifically to Trump’s failed campaign to prove Barack Obama wasn’t an American. "I guess because ratings matter more than brown people. I noticed there were no cutaway shots to the Roots. I wonder why."
Fallon sucks up to celebs.
The man that Slate calls a “professional sycophant” isn’t just nice to his guests. His fawning, “you’re the best!” style smacks of insincerity, the kind of show biz toadyism that snarky comics like, well, Jimmy Fallon used to satirize on Saturday Night Live.
Fallon “exhibits an unbearable unctuousness that would make Arsenio Hall cringe,” says media pundit Craig D. Lindsey. “Whenever a guest shows up with some (usually mediocre) movie or TV show to plug, Fallon shows enthusiasm that borders on being shameless and sycophantic, as he always calls his guests ‘buddy’ or ‘pal’ and tells them how much they are loved on the program.”
In the face of such criticism, Fallon once again plays the “that’s just who I am” card. “My job is to make everyone look good, no matter who it is, Fallon told late-night historian Bill Carter. ”We have people on that people don’t like. I know that. But that’s not my job. You make your own opinion. I can just show you the best person that they are.”
Hey, it worked for a few years!
Fallon is ‘accident prone.’
A series of weird accidents during his early run on The Tonight Show -- a broken ring finger here, a chipped tooth there -- got the whispers amplified into something more resembling a shout. Hey, lawyers, ComedyNerd isn’t saying Fallon may have allegedly had a drinking problem. We’ll let other people say it.
HE’S A MESS was the New York Post headline back in 2015 after yet another injury, cutting his hand on a broken bottle of Jagermeister that Fallon admitted throwing to the floor.
All of this was on the heels of Fallon’s hard-partying days at SNL. “We were super-functioning alcoholics, definitely,” Horatio Sanz told Vulture. “They say that kind of goes hand in hand with SNL, some kind of substance-abuse issues, because it’s so stressful you easily find yourself blowing off steam a lot.”
The partying got so bad that rumors ran rampant that Fallon could lose his Tonight Show gig if he couldn’t get his ‘accidents’ under control. The partying rumors have died down in the past few years -- maybe Fallon has outgrown that part of his youth? -- but as his ratings continue to decline, the rumors about him getting the ax have persisted.
Fallon can’t stop laughing at his own jokes.
If there’s an actual comedy reason for hating Jimmy Fallon, it’s his propensity for “breaking” -- cracking up at one’s own hilarity, long considered a comedy no-no. He practically got his own segment on SNL’s 40th-anniversary show, as Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg devoted an entire section of this song to Fallon’s special brand of shamelessness.
Not everyone thinks it’s adorable. Fallon’s former castmate Tracy Morgan hated "laughing and all that dumb s*** he used to do." There’s a reason Lorne Michaels has always been against it. "That's taking all the attention off of everybody else and putting it on you, like 'Oh, look at me, I'm the cute one.'" You might not remember Fallon laughing during Morgan’s sketches. That’s because Morgan "told him not to do that s*** in my sketches, and so he never did."
It hasn’t gotten any better on The Tonight Show. Sure, some of Fallon’s bits with celebrities are funny. But they’re not this funny, Bradley Cooper.
Most of the public turn against Fallon can be boiled down to a single perception: The late-night comic’s lack of authenticity. We know he has opinions of his own. We know he can’t find every joke that funny. We know Fallon isn’t best friends with every celebrity. And if he was, perhaps he could have an actual conversation with his famous pals instead of relying on schticky bits.
That’s the irony for the comic that we could vote Most Eager to Please in the comedy yearbook -- if Fallon was less hungry for everyone’s approval, he’d probably have a lot more of it.
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