This is the real (wait, fake) debate of the 2016 presidential election we’ve all been waiting for in this weekend’s premiere of the 42nd season of Saturday Night Live.
Comedy has its place in politics and Saturday Night Live (SNL) is that epicenter. The in-house legend Lorne Michaels, fully aware of his institution’s role in highly contentious elections, sought outside help to gently assist in a (potential) ratings bonanza by convincing longtime friend Alec Baldwin to play Donald Trump opposite hilarious cast member Kate McKinnon (Hillary Clinton). Throughout SNL’s esteemed history, creating caricatures of major political candidates and powerful leaders has been an entertaining trademark of the show. Particularly this election cycle, the major question isn’t determining whether there will be ample material from both sides.
Or material from the third candidate: Aleppo…Aleppo…Aleppo?
The concern is how much of the material has to be written?
The craziness, anger and, yes, sadness, of this presidential election has reached new lows that people never thought possible from the two major (well, all of the) candidates for the White House. And politics has always provided a steep curve. Still, scandals and new reasons for anger erupt on a seemingly daily basis, frustrating voters across the political spectrum. “These are our choices?” In this time of great trepidation, let’s take comfort in the words of the late Mark Twain:
“Humor is tragedy plus time.”
SNL is banking on five days being enough time from the tragedy of that first presidential debate.
Saturday Night Live has been providing late night sketches with some of the biggest names in comedy beginning with its very first cast back in 1975. Whether cast members and/or writers stayed for one season, seven or more, or if comedy greats today auditioned but didn’t make the cut, last night’s celebration at Studio 8H was an iconic moment for comedy. There was a history of SNL rap by the fan-favorite Fallon-Timberlake bromance, Steve Martin (need I say more?), a Jeopardy game with perfect categories for Sean Connery to mispronounce, a Californians sketch with a vintage mile-high goodbye, musical melodies from unforgettable duos, classic fake commercials, before unseen audition tapes, an In Memoriam remembering past giants, including with the very much alive and well Jon Lovitz sitting stunned in the audience, the return from one of its greats, a Q&A about nothing, a Wayne’s World episode 40 years in the making, cameos galore and countless clips from our favorite skits.
(Click the bottom right icon for sound and click on the video to stop and play)
One of the best parts about live television (and SNL in particular) is waiting for comedic professionals to break character. In so many situations, when the actors and actresses start laughing, that actually makes the skit so much more hilarious and memorable. Fortunately, there’s a special digital short for that:
Once again, let’s not forget to give another standing ovation to the man who envisioned it all 40 years ago and who has discovered and launched some of the best careers in comedy: Lorne Michaels.
Live from New York, it will always be Saturday Night!
Jimmy Fallon is not Jay Leno.
That can mean several things, both positive and negative, but it’s the truth nonetheless. It’s unequivocally a new era in the long, esteemed (though recently fumbled) history of The Tonight Show. In an opening few minutes that appeared sincerely surreal to the newly crowned 39-year old prince of late night television, Jimmy Fallon expressed his gratitude and excitement for the
tremendous (sorry, wrong host and network) treasured opportunity of receiving the baton of the show in late night.
The Tonight Show is back in New York City as The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
He thanked his parents who were in the audience (a great moment!) and recapped how, in his younger days, he would sneak off to watch Johnny Carson’s monologue, first guest and so on. He then recalled how if somebody had told him that one day he would graduate high school, join SNL and then become host of The Tonight Show, he would have been shocked…he graduated high school!?
It will be that kind of humbleness (and more smiling!) that will help guide Jimmy Fallon in the early stages of his tenure as the host before he fully dives into the treacherous waters of late night comedy with its natural and inevitable rivalries and cross-networking jabbing.
The show’s opening sequence was directed by Spike Lee (how’s that for a New York introduction) with musical support by his trusty house band: The Roots. The set has a classic, old-school New York theater/lounge aesthetic with a Carson-inspired floor to ceiling curtain with a heavy focus on wood…lots of wood. Visually, it looks like a bit of an homage to the past, perhaps trying to channel respect for what this move represents for the show and the city of New York.
Jimmy Fallon seemed right at home last night (well, this morning) by engaging in a history of hip-hop dancing with his first Tonight Show guest Will Smith. The clothes, the moves and the comedic chemistry between the two were pitch perfect. Then, U2 rocked the top of 30 Rockefeller Center with an electric performance of their new hit single from their Super Bowl commercial, “Invisible.”
U2 + the top of New York City for the opening night = a magnificent beginning!
The night was also filled with several of Jimmy’s friends who humorously lost a bet that he’d become the host one day. One after the other, Robert De Niro, Tina Fey, Seth Rogen, Lady Gaga, a former NYC mayor, Joan Rivers, coin prankster Stephen Colbert and many more stepped out from behind the curtain to give Jimmy Fallon a funny anti-welcome that was constantly surprising and ultimately entertaining.
Plus, an acoustic U2 performance on the new couch to close the show isn’t bad either.
Where does Jimmy Fallon and The Tonight Show stand at this point?
It’s far too early to tell or to judge. First, some reaction needs to be reserved until the show premieres at its quintessential time slot of 11:35 p.m. Then, we need to witness the comedic and creative energy and endurance of a 10-minute monologue five days a week…every week.
The monologue was key to Jay’s success as it was his winning first impression night in and night out for 20+ years. Let’s not forget about his comedic bits and engaging interview skills as well.
“What the hell were you thinking?”
But that was Jay. He’s America’s stand-up comic. And, as the recent 60 Minutes story revealed, Jay and his writing team worked relentlessly to fine-tune each joke and each monologue, night and day, night and day.
But alas, Jimmy Fallon is more comfortable as a masterful impressionist, singer and sketch artist (more like Johnny than Jay). His show will be the same in many ways, but also different in many ways. Emphasis on certain aspects will vary as his style will define his Tonight Show legacy. As I wrote in a previous article about Jay Leno, the move to Jimmy Fallon symbolizes a generational shift in comedy, style and personalities, and not just in late night.
This will not be the only article about Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show, but instead (like last night) just the first.
Millions of Americans laughed with Jay Leno for 22 years…will these same people see Jimmy Fallon as a rising star to watch for some good laughs five nights a week?
The dynamic of returning (fans, city, style) certainly is the question for the host.
P.S. Congratulations to the real new King of Late Night: Lorne Michaels.
Only one more night left…
February 6th: The last The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
February 17th: The first The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
As these dates draw closer, a more in-depth analysis, reflection and celebration will be featured on this blog. However, for now, the temptation to throw one’s mind into a state of wild visions and predictions has become too irresistible to deny. And it starts with a simple, seemingly pointless and nonsensical question at this precise moment in time:
Who will take over The Tonight Show a couple decades down the road after Jimmy Fallon?
While this inquiry may derive an insulting premise, that could not be any more untrue. It’s simply an acknowledgement that the tectonic plates of the comedic landscape is changing right before our eyes and that it sparks a curiosity about what lies ahead. Appropriately, the mind wanders into the far reaches of what is possible and what even seems inevitable in the not so distant future, history wise.
Seth Meyers is taking over Late Night as an SNL veteran of late night laughs at the age of 40. He’s a clever, funny writer with good delivery. No doubt. However, can Meyers carry the same interest and entertaining interaction he always shared with Stefon to all his guests? If this proves to be the case, then get ready to laugh very late into the night. And unless Jimmy Fallon (39) tanks (which he won’t), the 20 or so year-old question into the future is, “who is Fallon’s heir apparent?” Meyers is the perfect age for taking over The Tonight Show (if he were chosen or the best fit) right now. Not in 10, 15 or 20 years. That’s too late (one of my better puns). His ticket seems cemented in Late Night and with whatever else Mr. Michaels pitches his way. Although, there’s always that one in a million chance…
My guess? The person’s name will not start with Seth and end in Meyers.
Instead, the next big star for NBC at 11:35 p.m. will (drum roll please…) be a female comedian (stand-up and skits) who has strong writing and performance ties to Saturday Night Live and, specifically and most importantly, Lorne Michaels. Given the longevity and success that Johnny Carson and Jay Leno had and how that will potentially translate to Fallon, it’s very likely this individual is still in college. Maybe, maybe, there are the quietest of whispers about her somewhere in her college hallways.
Somewhere, someplace, this person is making somebody laugh.
My prediction (via Carnac the Magnificent) is that the next host of The Tonight Show will be a beautiful, talented, clever, witty and nationally appealing female stand-up comic and master of sketches who will define a new era in comedy during the heart of the 21st century for girls and women of all ages across the United States and beyond.