Jimmy Fallon had the biggest night of his career Monday, as the comedian hosted “The Tonight Show” for the first time. It marked the beginning of a new era for the show as it makes a significant generational shift from former host Jay Leno, 63, to Fallon, 39.
“I’m Jimmy Fallon, and I’ll be your host … for now,” he joked.
But the show’s prestige and enormity of its honor were not lost on Fallon, who appeared nervous despite years of hosting his own late night show. It brought a human element to the evening as viewers rooted for Fallon while he found his footing. Addressing his parents in the audience, he made the heartwarming statement, “I hope you’re proud of me,” as he reflected on what “The Tonight Show” meant to him growing up.
While he didn’t overcome his opening night jitters, he couldn’t have had a better first guest. Will Smith graciously worked to put Fallon at ease and even offered words of encouragement: “People are coming for you. ‘The Tonight Show’ is big and it’s historic, but people are coming because of your heart.”
And he’s right. After a short-lived passing of the torch to Connan O’Brien in 2009 that resulted in bringing Leno back to the show, NBC was rightfully apprehensive to hire a new host. When O’Brien failed to deliver, the formula for the future of the franchise had to be recalculated. Leno’s icon-status made him difficult to replace, but Fallon proved to be the right choice last night. Because he is genuinely liked by the public and his peers, he received a warm welcome from a star-studded lineup including his former “Saturday Night Live” castmates.
“To my buddy who said I’d never be the host of ‘The Tonight Show,’ you owe me $100,” Fallon said before celebrities began making their way on stage to give Fallon $100 bills. Tina Fey, Seth Rogen, Mariah Carey, Lindsay Lohan, Kim Kardashian, Joan Rivers, Lady Gaga, Sarah Jessica Parker and Tracy Morgan were among the stars to lend their support. Stephen Colbert gave his $100 in pennies, dumping the coins on Fallon before exclaiming, “Welcome to 11:30, b–ch!”
In his five years of hosting “Late Night,” Fallon brought the power of popular culture to the show. He reunited the cast of “Saved by the Bell,” “California Dreams” and the men of “Full House” for eager audiences. Fallon has always brought the nostalgia back, and did again last night with the help of Smith. “The Evolution of Hip-Hop Dancing” had Fallon and Smith, dressed in identical denim overalls, dancing “The Carlton” — which all the ‘90s kids will appreciate.
This type of physical comedy is something that will be new to the show, and is a benefit of a younger host who can better relate to millennials.
“The Tonight Show” is a great undertaking, but one that Fallon appears well-equipped to take on. Guests for the first week include Lady Gaga, Tim McGraw, Bradley Cooper and Will Ferrell. Fallon’s close friend, Justin Timberlake, will be the last guest for his debut week.
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