Next month, Jimmy Fallon inherits NBC’s revered Tonight Show, bringing his unbridled energy, musical talent and long list of celebrity pals to the 60-year-old late-night institution. Over the past five years – close to 1,000 shows – the Saturday Night Live alum honed his craft as the host of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, and if last night’s two-hour retrospective of his Late Night tenure is any indication, we’re in for a hell of a ride when The Tonight Show relocates from Los Angeles to New York on February 17th. What makes Fallon’s unique blend of comedy, music and viral videos such a recipe for success? Based on last night’s lookback, we’ve come up with six key ingredients that will ensure Fallon a seamless transition from a.m. to p.m.
1. Everything’s better with Justin Timberlake
Bookending The Best of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon with clips featuring the “Suit & Tie” singer was a no-brainer. From “History of Rap Part 2” (which opened the show) to “Hashtag” (closer), not to mention everything they’ve done on SNL together, Fallon and Timberlake are poised to give Tina Fey and Amy Poehler some stiff competition for best comedic duo of the 21st century. Of course NBC couldn’t include every genius Fallon-Timberlake musical moment last night, but if you’ve never seen “Three Michael McDonalds Sing ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat,'” please rectify that matter immediately.
2. Staying friends with Barack and Michelle Obama
Two clips that were awarded prime real estate on Best of starred none other than the president and first lady, proving they could hold their own in comic timing while promoting their respective platforms in physical fitness and student-debt relief. In “The Evolution of Mom Dancing,” Mrs. Obama showed up a cardigan-clad Fallon (dressed as his “Real Housewives of Late Night” character) with her mad Dougie skills, while her husband, a.k.a. the “Preezy of the United Steezy,” gave Brian Williams the night off back in 2012 when he slow-jammed the news with Fallon and house band the Roots.
3. Duets with musical legends never get old
Especially when someone like Fallon can persuade them to parody their seminal classics or dress up as their 1970s (and 1980s) selves and sing the latest pop hits of the day in his signature growl. One of the most memorable musical appearances on Late Night was in 2010, when Bruce Springsteen donned a beard, his Born to Run-era sunglasses and a newsboy hat to join Fallon-as-Neil Young in a rendition of Willow Smith’s girl-power anthem “Whip My Hair.” Not to be outdone, Paul McCartney showed up a few weeks later to perform “Scrambled Eggs,” the original version the Beatles’ “Yesterday,” with added verses about waffle fries and chicken—erm, tofu wings (Sir Paul’s a vegetarian through and through, even in his songs).
4. Keeping the Digital Original Parody factory in operation
Late Night With Jimmy Fallon is a world of many layers. Who knew that after Fallon bid the audience good-night in Studio 6B, he slipped into white tie, tails and a British accent, and entered the inner sanctum of “Downton Sixbey“? Or that announcer Steve Higgins moonlighted in oversize sweats as an underground joke dealer – out-“bitch”-ing Aaron Paul himself (“Joking Bad”)? And since we need a good Scandal or The Americans spoof in time for their return at the end of February, I would love to see how monologue intrigue and cue-card sabotage are “fixed” backstage at The Tonight Show.
5. Insanity works
Like most talk shows, Late Night With Jimmy Fallon initially got off to a rocky start when it premiered in 2009. But it was the appearance of Mark-Paul Gosselaar in the guise of his Saved by the Bell alter ego Zack Morris (blond wig, cuffed acid-wash jeans, jumbo mobile phone) that helped Late Night find its quirky pop-culture groove. Not sure if “Let Us Play With Your Look” – which always featured a blond, Louise Brooks-bobbed Fallon singing the Swedish-porn-esque theme song in falsetto – is appropriate for the 11:35 p.m. timeslot, but I would gladly watch Bryan Cranston smear grease paint into an unsuspecting audience-member’s hair on The Tonight Show anytime.
6. The Roots
There is no question that the Roots have been instrumental – bad pun intended – in making Late Night With Jimmy Fallon such a hit. Whether it’s the arcane choices for the guest stars’ walk-on music (which can sometimes get the band into trouble) or performing “Blurred Lines” or “Call Me Maybe” with classroom instruments like a toy xylophone, the Philadelphia crew has revolutionized the role of a talk-show house band. Viewers tune in to hear the Roots as much as they do to see Fallon impersonate Justin Bieber or Tom Cruise crack raw eggs on his perfectly coiffed head, so it was a relief when it was finally reported that Questlove and Co. would be making the move over to The Tonight Show.