Is Fallon the Xer Who Will Millennialize Late Night?

Feb 24 2014

Jimmy Fallon is not a Millennial. At 36-years-old, he is firmly in the camp of the Gen Xer—but you wouldn’t be blamed for mistaking him for a member of the more optimistic, less-cynical generation when watching his takeover of The Tonight Show since last MondayAfter years of Leno and Letterman’s wry, sarcastic take on pop culture dominating late night, Fallon’s approach is unapologetically positive and inclusive. Fallon could be the first late night host to appeal to the Millennial audience. Ratings for the show actually improved over the course of last week for viewers between 18 and 49 (the “money category” for late night shows) delivering a number that was the best viewer score for that demo on a Wednesday night for the show in 10 years. Nothing about the long-term future of his audience can be determined yet, but he’s already in a better position that most to lure Millennials to late night TV. Many grew up watching him on SNL, but that’s just one advantage—his personality and approach to comedy make him more Millennial-friendly than any other host. Here are just some of the reasons that Fallon may be the Xer who will Millennialize late night:
 
1. They’re actually excited for him.
Throughout last week, one of the biggest differences between Jimmy Fallon and his predecessor became clear: Millennials are actually excited for Fallon, and they’re celebrating his show. His premiere resulted in a slew of blogosphere output chronicling and complimenting the moments of the first show, like “The 35 Best Moments From Jimmy Fallon’s ‘Tonight Show’ Debut” GIF gallery posted on Buzzfeed. UPROXX’s effusive posting on the celebrity cameo skit of the premiere might have put the reaction best: ”You might say the cameo-heavy segment was just like the thing Jay Leno tried to do, except executed much better. Which, come to think of it, might make a good slogan for this incarnation of The Tonight Show.” Clearly Millennial writers and viewers are pro-Fallon, and excited to see where he will take the show. And each post was a mini-commercial for other Millennials who hadn’t witnessed it live to tune in next time.
 
2. He plays with viral.
Clips from Fallon’s Tonight Show continued to be featured on curation and Millennial-focused entertainment sites throughout the week, mostly thanks to his ability to play with viral content. Many of the favorite bits from The Late Show are making their way to his new home, and bits inspired by viral videos are a specialty. Fallon didn’t create the original (massively viral) “Evolution of Dance” clip, but his own “Evolution” skits inspired by that original viral content have become viral vehicles in their own right. His “History of Rap” with Justin Timberlake was a regular feature, and has already made its Tonight Show debut—that video has received 4.5 million views in three days. The “Evolution of Hip-Hop Dancing” he performed with Will Smith during his first show last week has garnered over 10 million views. Continuing to create content that plays off memes and can be gleefully passed around the internet is just another appeal to the Millennial audience, many of whom consider the internet their collective playground.

3. His is the nicest kind of comedy.
When New York Magazine profiled Jimmy Fallon four years ago, they remarked on how different his style of comedy was from other late night TV hosts:

Fallon has been cultivating a distinct, and refreshing, strain of humor: the comedy of unabashed celebration. If other late-night shows have come to feature a familiar crankiness—directed at politicians, our trashy culture, or rival talk-show hosts—Fallon, by contrast, now presides over a goofy, raucous, playful, innovative hour of shameless shenanigans. It’s Jimmy Fallon’s late-night house of joy.

He is unendingly positive and effusive, an attitude that feels more welcoming to optimistic and hopeful Millennials than the “crankiness” that some other late night shows provide. But Fallon also steers clear of meanness when it comes to both his guests and his audience. We wrote about his ability to make himself a part of the joke and in a piece advising brands to stop making fun of Millennials. In a continuation of his “Hashtag Conversations” sketch, this time with Jonah Hill, Fallon again avoided making fun of people who use hashtags, instead making himself a part of that group, saying “Jonah and I are both big into Twitter. We tweet a lot.” Compare this to Leno’s recurring “Jaywalking” bit, in which he asked twenty-somethings on the street questions about current events to showcase their inability to answer simple trivia. The Millennials in these spots were the punchline, their lack of knowledge providing every comedic moment, and the intended audience clearly the older generation viewers who would be shaking their heads at the young and uneducated. Comparing his to his competitors, The Washington Post wrote last week, “Fallon belongs to the prevailing every-kid-gets-a-trophy mind-set, while Kimmel hasn’t forgotten that those kids sometimes still need a wedgie.” They might have meant it as criticism, but with Millennials the approach is one that embraces them rather than mocks them—and they might be ready for the respite.
 
4. He’s a fan of their pop culture.
Millennials are endlessly nostalgic for their youth, and in that they have a soul mate. Jimmy Fallon is obsessed with ‘90s pop culture, an unabashed fan boy who has become known for using his position as a late night fixture to indulge his love of the shows Millennials love. On Late Night, he had Mark-Paul Gosseller appear as Zach Morris and passionately tried to reunited Saved By the Bell on his show. He had Tom Hanks perform spoken word about Full Housereunited Uncle Jesse’s band, and reunited the male leads of the cast in a sketch that had them reprise their roles with Fallon as Michelle. Already on The Tonight Show, he’s done a creative homage to “Rapper’s Delight.” Fallon doesn’t just deliver nostalgic content that speaks to Millennials’ own childhood, he revels in bringing that content back to life for them—and they love it.

5. He gets people to take themselves less seriously. 
Last year, we wrote about the Serious Faux Pas— the idea of Millennials’ tendency to reject celebrities and brands that take themselves too seriously. Fallon is able to make fun of himself in a way that Letterman and Leno never could (they definitely take themselves seriously). But he’s also able to get his guests—whether they be Oscar winners or politicians— to step off their pedestals, stop taking themselves seriously, and have fun while they’re at it. This could be because of his background at SNL. As Vulture wrote, “One part of SNL training that comes in handy now was constantly having to talk famous people into making fun of their own image.” The skill is already coming in handy, and producing clips that, yes, are getting plenty of attention from Millennials online. He has had Bradley Cooper play charades with Emma Thompson, and Kristin Wiig appear as Harry Styles for an interview. The irreverent and more playful environment being fostered makes it more likely for Millennials to tune in to catch some meme-able moments.

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