#TheTonightShow, with #JimmyFallon at the center, has been a late-night juggernaut since premiering in 2014, with consistently solid ratings, numerous viral hits, an amusement park ride and a spin-off. However, over the past six weeks, The Tonight Show has come in second place to #TheLateShowwithStephenColbert, which debuted last year to modest ratings. The rise of #StephenColbert has been attributed to his sharp political commentary, which Fallon tends to veer away from. Colbert has managed to hit the right balance of sincerity and satire that the American people are craving right now.
The general consensus seems to be that Fallon will be pressured to change his format and hit the political angle harder to keep up, but this would be a mistake. There’s no question that we are in one of the most charged social and political climates in recent memory and the campaign and presidency of #DonaldTrump provides late-night comedians with more material then they can keep up with. However, rather than just goofy jokes about political gaffes, there is a growing demand for smart dissection of the political landscape served in a humorous way, in the style Jon Stewart made famous.
There is no shortage of material to satisfy that craving — Last Week Tonigh twith John Oliver, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Late Night with Seth Meyers, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and Saturday Night Live all take shots at the new administration in every episode. #JimmyKimmel, #Conan, and #JamesCorden don’t dive deep into politics as often, but tend not to pull their punches when they do.
Jimmy Fallon has largely stayed away from edgy political skewering and received a great deal of criticism following his softball interview of Trump last fall.
Audiences have plenty of late-night shows offering witty commentary on current events and politics to choose from. Pile those on top of the wider media coverage — news publications, televisions shows (both news and narrative), radio, podcasts, web outlets, awards shows, sporting events — political statements have permeated across all facets of media. Farhad Manjoo wrote about Trump's omnipresence in The New York Times:
"On most days, Mr. Trump is 90 percent of the news on my Twitter and Facebook feeds, and probably yours, too. But he’s not 90 percent of what’s important in the world."
Necessary conversations are being brought up, awareness is being raised, and perspectives are being shared, but an occasional respite from the constant stream of Trump talk is also very welcome.
There should be options when we sit down to enjoy comedy. We know where to go for funny and intelligent examinations of the latest scandal to erupt from DC. Then, when we want to relax and take a pause from these issues fraught with tension that invade every single facet of our days, it’s a relief to watch The Tonight Show. Sometimes, you just want to see charming celebrities do goofy things, or The Roots reenacting The Bachelor, or people playing fun games. There should be an alternative that we can all enjoy together, and that’s always been Fallon’s mode of operation.
His style is to be friends with everyone, help people forget their worries for a little bit, and keep things light and fun. Not everyone connects with Fallon’s vibe, but that’s sort of the point. There are enough late-night shows where everyone’s preferences should be satisfied and we don't need to force everyone into the same box, even if it's a good box.
Fallon, by no means, avoids making jokes at Trump's expense; he simply wades in the shallow end, eschewing the long segments offering political commentary his competitors are leaning into. It's simply not his strong suit. Let him do what he does well — produce goofy, energetic viral bits and harmlessly parody Trump — while Colbert and the cable guys tackle unpacking the politics.