About twenty seconds into last night's 62nd Primetime Emmy Awards on NBC, I was dreading that it was going to be a long night. Twenty seconds later, I was on the edge of my seat laughing. And so I remained for the rest of the hilarious and energetic opening number, which seemed to validate what I've said for years: Jimmy Fallon is more talented than many people think.
Since his days on NBC's Saturday Night Live, Fallon has always gotten laughs, but critics of his work accuse him of being too childish, or not being able to keep a straight face among the comedy heavyweights. But where others saw unprofessionalism, I just saw a guy having fun -- so much fun that he occasionally broke character to let us be part of it.
But all the Fallon haters, I suspect, were silenced last night when we saw a more mature Jimmy, looking great, sounding great, hitting cues and landing punch lines. Seems his time on NBC's Late Night has really upped his game from class clown to seasoned host. He was comfortable, but not casual. Excited, but not giddy.
Not everything about the show was perfect, or even successful, but as far as Fallon was involved, I find it hard to make complaints. Maybe the acoustic guitar intros were a bit hokey, but they were brief, which isn't always the case with bits on these shows. The tweets might have missed the mark altogether. The show started to feel a bit slow during the second half, but overall it moved, and kept speeches brief (though whose awful idea was it to cut off Matt Weiner and NOT cut off Al Pacino?!).
On the other hand, the shout-out to Conan in the monologue played perfectly, and his introduction of Tom Selleck was strangely hilarious. But the greatest laughs, aside from the watch-it-twice-on-DVR opener, had to be the musical tribute to departing shows.
Fallon's greatest strength, aside from natural charm, is his arsenal of perfectly exaggerated impressions (see his Barry Gibb, Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, Van Morrison, Mick Jagger, and many more).
Add Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong to the list of people he can absolutely tear apart. And it should be noted that the lyrics to that segment were just as solid as the impressions:
To the tune of Green Day's "Time of Your Life," saluting and summarizing the finale of ABC's Lost, Fallon-as-Armstrong sang, "The island, it was mythical / and, in the end, they died / I didn't understand it / but I tried..."
But perhaps the true key to Fallon's success (in life as well as this particular show) is his humility. He is a performer who can really bring it when he needs to, but otherwise stays very polite and confidently reserved. In the days before the Emmys, he called in to Ryan Seacrest's KISS-FM morning radio show for a plug, and made joke after joke at his own expense. After suggesting an idea to let the actors in the audience post messages on Twitter throughout the show, Seacrest asked if he thought people would then not pay any attention to him.
"Well," Fallon replied, "I'm already used to that." He shied from self-importance, promised to try his best, and admitted to being even more nervous than excited. "I've thrown up three times already. And that's just to lose weight."
But when he hung up the phone on the radio, it was hard not to like him, and even harder not to root for him. That same boyish enthusiasm that made him giggle during SNL skits is still very much alive in Fallon.
That lovable mix of earnestness and self-effacement we also find in the Conans and the Ellens of this world. With anything he does, Fallon's attitude just makes me want to laugh with him.
And last night, I did.