After 969 episodes, 10,000 monologue jokes and one on-camera upchuck by Questlove, Late Night With Jimmy Fallon had no shortage of material to reflect upon during its final episode. Yet last night, its happy host summed up the entire show’s run succinctly with one Frankensteined über-joke: “Joe Biden needed Obamacare after Anthony Weiner texted Justin Bieber a picture of Chris Christie dating a Kardashian on the Jersey Shore.”
We would’ve added “on Friday” to that, but hey – that’s been the joy of Jimmy Fallon’s irrepressible late-night experiment, the huge output of memorable pop culture spoofs and topical pratfalls. (And, of course, Questlove really did spew live on air once, a moment gleefully revisited in the last moments of this episode.) Fallon turns 40 this fall but still has the coltish enthusiasm of his Saturday Night Live heyday 15 years ago, and it’s what powered five seasons of Late Night and his most creative moments in it, from going full Tim Tebowie to slow-jamming the news with the leader of the free world. His other asset: He’s been a generous foil to his famous guests, never upstaging them and laughing harder than anyone as they ferociously lip-synched “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” or gyrated in a white leotard and blonde Roxie Hart wig to an original serenade of “Won’t You Pop My Balloon?” The same trait that irked his SNL viewers – his constant, scene-breaking laughter – made Late Night an irreverent clubhouse and renewed the musty talk format into a factory of hit digital shorts. Even the presence of a Macbook Air next to his coffee mug – as functional an accessory as a desk can have – seemed youthfully removed from the old-timey microphones and cue cards of other later-night hosts. It’ll be a trip to see him assume the Tonight Show desk on February 17th.
But first, to close out Late Night’s impressive run, Fallon went low on fuss and heavy on the classics. Opening with a balmy cover of Bob Dylan’s “On a Night Like This” with the singer-accordionist Buckwheat Zydeco (who covered the song on his 1987 album of same name), Fallon set a happy, ruminative tone for the last monologue. (Anything otherwise would have been startling: He’s always seemed charmed and effusive and it’s hard to imagine him having a somber moment like Leno’s sign-off. Fallon cracked, “I’m really gonna miss being on a TV at 12:37. [I’ll] especially miss the battle for late-night ratings with my fierce rivals: Craig Ferguson and a veggie chopper infomercial,” and dutifully wedged in a few Olympics Opening Ceremony quips. He did set one uncharacteristic, dare-we-say Conan O’Brien-esque moment of self-deprecation early on, telling the standing, cheering audience “I don’t deserve it, the show’s not that good tonight,” but he was overall very sincere, tearing up as he thanked the Roots, David Letterman and Paul Shaffer, O’Brien and Andy Richter and the show’s fans.
After a quick segment of famous friends’ advice for his new gig – Miley Cyrus, of course, told him to shed clothes – Fallon spun through one last round of Thank You Notes. (“Thank you lugers for looking like a member of Daft Punk getting an MRI.”) His last interview segment was a fond chat with the recent Golden Globe winner Andy Samberg – who, for reference, was stunting in his flippy-floppies with T-Pain in “I’m On a Boat” five years ago – and they did a bit in which the Lonely Islander grilled Fallon about his fears as both their mouths twitched. Afterwards, the merry show announcer Steve Higgins sat down with Fallon to reminisce about their “SNL” days together (Higgins wrote and produced), which snuck in a delightful, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reenactment of their awesomely stupid “Cork Soakers” sketch that originally costarred Horatio Sanz and Janet Jackson.
In Late Night’s last moments, Fallon took his bow with some likewise enthusiastic spirits, the Muppets, to cover the Band’s beatific hit “The Weight.” Between this roots-rock nod and his Dylan opener, Fallon went out with a clear, deferential nod to his musical forebears. (After all, his first-ever musical guest was Van Morrison; all those duets with Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon were just gravy.) The Muppets were a symmetrical set of guests on the show; as Fallon explained earlier in the evening, creators Jim Henson and Frank Oz had painted still-visible pipes in the same studio some 50 years ago, before Kermit and Co. were household names. That history and the poignancy of the moment suffused this version of “The Weight,” lending a slapstick-free sweetness to the verses; even Miss Piggy was affectionate and poised, and Fallon lent modest, cool percussion in the background.
After the final chords, Fallon strode offstage with no bow. He left his set, walked quickly across the hall and opened the door to the studios of The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, where his crew was waiting to embrace him. Clearly, he’s in no mood to lose momentum.