Jimmy Fallon’s supposed to be the apolitical host, an island of affable goofiness in a sea of snarling Colberts, Kimmels, and Bees. But watch below to see what he uncorked last night, with an enormous lead in from the Super Bowl. Tapper was caught off-guard, as were other viewers.
I was surprised at how political this was, given that Fallon tends to be one of the least political late night hosts https://t.co/2tFxcqcs5m
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) February 5, 2018
The left has been grumpy at Fallon ever since the 2016 campaign, when he was playful rather than hostile with guest Donald Trump. That was just him being true to himself; he’s the type of guy who’d rather play with silly string than workshop bumper stickers for The Resistance. His ratings have been sliding ever since, though, to the point where Colbert’s overall audience now far exceeds Fallon’s even though Fallon continues to hold a lead among the 18-49 demographic. But that’s shrinking too, as the Times noticed in late November:
[Fallon] has lost 21 percent of his audience year over year since the fall season began on Sept. 25. At the same time, Jimmy Kimmel has made ratings gains in the 11:35 p.m. slot on ABC…
The size of Mr. Colbert’s entire audience has spiked along with his gains among younger viewers. During the sweeps period, he averaged 3.7 million total viewers a night — a 23 percent increase from a year ago.
Since the fall season began, Mr. Fallon’s audience in the 18-to-49 group has plunged by 26 percent, even though he is, at 43, the youngest of the late-night network hosts.
Kimmel’s audience has also grown as he’s become more stridently critical of Trump, raising the previously unthinkable possibility that “The Tonight Show” might eventually slip to third in overall viewers. If that were to happen, one of two things would certainly change: Either Fallon would start bashing Trump more frequently to try to claw back defectors or he’ll be replaced. I wonder how much money NBC would throw at Dave Chappelle to host “Tonight.”
In the short-term, though, they may be prepared to try the first strategy. The Dylan parody below is interesting for several reasons, one of which, as The Week says, is that apart from a line about Mel Gibson and the overall effect of Fallon’s Dylan impression, the song isn’t funny. It’s essentially a straightforward re-write of “The Times They Are A-Changin'” for the age of Trump. Fallon may have thought of Dylan because his show was live from Minnesota last night, where Dylan was born, but I wonder if he was thinking demographics too in using that frame of reference. As I say, he still leads Colbert among adults age 49 and under; Colbert is cleaning up with older viewers. So here’s Fallon, parodying a song and singer that’ll be instantly recognizable to older viewers but might be a puzzler to the younger members of his audience. Come back, Baby Boomers! “The Tonight Show” is here for you.
The other interesting facet is that his knock on Trump is being filtered through someone else’s persona. Fallon’s show has been political before but Fallon himself tends to stay away from sharp political critiques since it cuts against his image. It risks alienating the younger viewers who prefer goofball material. One way he may try to balance the two is by reserving his hardest political knocks for his parodies of musicians or other celebs. Political fans can enjoy the material while less political fans can enjoy the impression. And viewers who are sympathetic to Trump might be persuaded that the commentary is all part of the impersonation, not necessarily Fallon’s own views.
Here’s the clip. The lyrics are quoted below.
Come gather round people wherever you roam
And admit that our country don’t feel like our home
And that silence speaks louder than those who condone
If a tweet to you is worth favin’
Then lift up your voices and put down your phones
For the times they are a-changin’
Come women and men who hashtag Me Too
And believe me when I say that we believe you
For weak is the man who calls truth “fake news”
Time’s up, our silence we’re breaking
And even though Mel Gibson was in Daddy’s Home 2
Well the times they are a-changin’
Come athletes with platforms throughout the land
Who by taking a knee are taking a stand
And before you shout out that they should be banned
Listen to what they are saying
Perhaps they’d stand up if you reached out your hand
Well the times they are a-changing
Come journalists, writers who report the facts
And brandish your pen to fend off his attacks
Look past what he says and look at how he acts
The fire and fury is raging
For his words can hurt, but your words can fight back
New York Times, they aren’t a-failin’
Come leaders who bully like Internet trolls
We’ll curse you with four-letter words ‘love’ and ‘hope’
For we will go high even when you go low
The order is re-arranging
For you have the power, but we have the vote
The times they are a-changin’