By Neal Justin Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Jimmy Fallon has convinced Bruce Springsteen to cover “Whip My Hair,” Tom Cruise to smash a raw egg on his own forehead and President Barack Obama to “slow jam” the news.
With a record like that, taking over “The Tonight Show” from Jay Leno tonight should be a snap.
Fallon’s ascension to one of entertainment’s most coveted spots is intrinsically tied to his ability to talk celebrity guests into ignoring their posses, leaving their egos backstage and getting into the spirit of the most unpredictable party on late-night TV.
Call him a fanboy, call him a gusher. He’s hosting “Tonight” and you’re not.
“I think everyone knows I don’t want to make them look foolish. At the end of the day, I want to make them look good,” he said.
Fallon’s nonthreatening approach has worked, first by giggling his way through “Saturday Night Live” sketches from 1998 to 2004 and then during his five years as Conan O’Brien’s replacement on “Late Night.”
“If you’re into pop culture, it’s a great job,” said Fallon, who at 39, still peppers his conversation with words like “awesome” and “crazy.”
“You get to see movies before anyone else, tickets to any Broadway shows you want. You get to hear great music just 10 feet away from you.”
Even a sunny attitude can’t hide some daunting challenges ahead.
Leno, the undisputed king in terms of total viewers, lost his beloved gig because the average age of his fans is nearly 58, just outside of the 25 to 54 demographic coveted by advertisers.
Fallon’s base isn’t a whole lot younger. Both he and his prime rival, Jimmy Kimmel, average about 50, which is a fairly standard age for the modern-day broadcast network.
Yes, Fallon pals around with Justin Timberlake and is backed by the Roots, one of music’s most inventive bands. But he also showcases artists who mean little or nothing to those in their 20s and 30s.
For his final episode, he strapped on a guitar and jammed with 66-year-old blues accordionist Buckwheat Zydeco on Bob Dylan’s “On a Night Like This.”
To close the show, he drummed with the Muppets on the old chestnut “The Weight.”
Hip? Sure — in 1975.
“Jimmy’s the least exclusive comedian I know,” said his producer, Josh Lieb. “He really does want to include the entire country in the conversation.”
He plans to start off with eight or nine minutes of jokes, largely on the advice of — who else? — Jay Leno.
“Steve Allen was the first guy to sit in a plate of ice cream and pretend he’s a banana split by rolling around in chocolate syrup,” said Fallon, referencing the “Tonight Show’s” original host back in the 1950s. “That’s what it should be. It should be goofy and fun.”