Late Night with Jimmy Fallon: The Modern Variety Show

Jimmy Fallon is truly on top of the world right now.  NBC’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon currently leads in the late night ratingsRumors have been swirling that the announcement of Jimmy taking over The Tonight Show in 2014 (when both his and Jay Leno’s contracts are up) is imminent and all but outright confirmed by NBC insiders.  The show’s been nominated for Primetime Emmys every year since it began 4 years ago, and has been nominated for Outstanding Variety, Music Or Comedy Series the last three years. The show’s “Thank You Notes” segment has spawned a best-selling book. Most recently, Jimmy won a Grammy for his comedy album “Blow Your Pants Off” that features original songs (most featuring celebrity cameos) he performs on the show.

It’s easy to pin all of this success on Jimmy’s universal likeability or the undeniable cool factor brought by house band The Roots; but the show’s popularity is also due largely in part to the essence of variety within the show–a true variety show for the modern era.

In the 21st century, variety shows are things of the past. Music, dance, and sketch comedy have all become compartmentalized into their own shows, leaving SNL and late night talk shows as the only remaining outlets for a combination of entertainment. But when it comes down to it, no show better exemplifies the energy and entertainment of classic variety shows than Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy Fallon performing "Whip My Hair"

Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy Fallon performing “Whip My Hair”

Comedy bits have always been a staple of late night talk shows, whether it’s Jay Leno’s Tonight Show Headlines segment, or a more absurd (but still one of my favorites) segment of “If They Mated” from Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Jimmy has taken his SNL background and used it to his advantage in making his show stand out—he performs songs, he does impressions, and often combines the two. Jimmy’s performance as Neil Young singing Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” with backup from Bruce Springsteen at his 1970s-newsboy-cappiest has been a huge hit.

More lingering evidence of Jimmy’s time at SNL is the fact that Late Night also has quite a few hilarious pretaped shows-within-the-show under its belt, including “The Real Housewives of Late Night,” “Jersey Floor,” “Downton Sixbey” (a Downton Abbey parody set behind the scenes of Late Night in it’s 30 Rock studio–Studio 6B), “Cupid’s Arrow,” “Robert Is Bothered;” the list goes on and on.  The live sketches are just as good, with other recurring shows like “Real People, Fake Arms.”  Come on, what about the title “Real People, Fake Arms” doesn’t make you instantly want to watch this show?

Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey playing the game Pyramid

Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey playing Pyramid

The real stand-out element of the show is that Jimmy loves playing games with his guest. Guest interviews can often feel very forced and rehearsed, but tossing celebrities into whatever bizarre game the writers came up with that week opens so much more opportunity for fun spontaneity. Some of the games are more old school, like Password; while others are much more modern—like playing beer pong with Betty White.  The games aren’t just for celebrity guests either; audience members often participate in games like the Wheel of Carpet Samples, or even get to partner up with celebrities to play games like Catch Phrase or Pictionary.

I know this whole post has basically just been one long list of Late Night videos you probably feel you don’t have time to watch, but the show truly is the best encapsulation of the fun zaniness of old variety shows with an infusion of modern flavor.  The nonstop, A+ variety of entertainment that Late Night brings to the table each night is the reason why, even though it’s a daily show, I make sure and DVR every episode.  With a show like Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, you don’t want to miss a moment.

Watch new episodes of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on weekdays on NBC at 12:30a/11:30p c.

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About Kailee

Offering TV opinions and trivia to anyone that will listen since 2003.

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