Watched Jimmy Fallon for the first time since he took over The Tonight Show.
Is it too soon to wish for Leno to come back?
Maybe Fallon’s good with his guests. I wouldn’t know. I turned it off right after the monologue.
If you can call it a monologue.
I’m not sure it counts because monologues are supposed to rev the audience up, put them in a good mood, and include these little verbal games known as jokes.
Morticians greeting grieving relatives at the door of the viewing room are livelier and more cheerful than Fallon was. He practically mumbled the entire monologue so I can’t be sure, but I don’t think he told a single joke. I didn’t even hear many things that had the structure and rhythm of jokes. He’d mumble his way through a couple of sentences then pause, and the audience, realizing he was expecting a reaction, would laugh uncertainly. It wasn’t the case he was bombing. He wasn’t trying.
Here’s one of the few less than wise cracks that registered.
After observing that Vladimir Putin has seen his poll numbers go up after invading the Crimea, Fallon said, President Obama has decided to invade Mexico.
I know that analyzing a joke kills the joke, but since this isn’t an actual joke, it’s just meant to pass for one until the next one comes along…
To be funny, a political joke has to have some truth to it. The truth behind this wouldn’t have to be that President Obama was contemplating an invasion of anywhere let alone Mexico. But it would have to take into account several things:
That at the moment, the President is weathering intense criticism from the usual neo-con and Right Wing suspects fighting for camera time and bandwidth for not being tough enough, specifically or generally, for in fact not being likely to invade anywhere.
That the President’s poll numbers are doing what they always do during media ginned up crises, fluctuating, going up or down a few points, day to day, almost hour to hour, and they’ll probably finish the way they always do, where they started.
That this President has seemed less interested in his poll numbers than any President in the last fifty years, certainly less interested than his immediate predecessor who, let’s not forget, used to issue terrorist threat alerts every time he felt he needed a popularity boost or to distract the media from yet another screw-up.
That not only is the President not likely to invade anywhere, let alone a country that has nothing to do with the geopolitics of the moment, he has un-invaded one country and is in the process of---or at least thinking out loud about---un-invading another, both countries, in case anyone’s forgotten, invaded by his immediate predecessor and one of them having had nothing to do with the geopolitics of the moment and invaded under false pretenses and for even darker reasons than pumping up his poll numbers.
So, if you were trying to come up with a joke about the President, and came up with this one but gave it some thought before feeding it to the teleprompter you’d hit the delete key because all the above makes the joke not a funny way of telling the truth about President Obama but an unfunny way of telling a lie.
Very simply, nothing about the joke describes him or the situation.
Now it happens that there are some jokes that work in the One Joke Fits All Presidents category. They’re usually not very funny. This isn’t one of them, anyway.
But maybe Fallon’s writers are so lazy and jejune that they thought it was because they needed it to be because they were stuck for an opening joke and Hey, Crimea’s in the news today! They might have been thinking, well, thinking is obviously not the word, but letting themselves be guided by the general feeling that all politicians will do anything to pump up their poll numbers.
But like I said the “joke” isn’t about all Presidents or about Obama at all.
It’s about George W. Bush.
It’s about Bush in that it actually describes him. He was the kind of President who would invade the wrong country for political gain. We know he was because that’s what he did.
But it’s about him in another way because of how I suspect Fallon’s writers came up with the joke.
They stole it.
Various iterations of it have been bobbing up in my Twitter stream for the last couple of weeks, most of them along the lines of “If George Bush was still President, he’d have handled the Russian invasion of the Crimea by invading [insert wrong and helpless country here],” many of them finishing with Mexico, although Canada’s been a popular punchline too.
As it appears on Twitter, it’s barely a joke. It’s sarcasm. A snarky way of reminding people about Iraq.
If, as I suspect they did, Fallon’s writers saw it on Twitter, they knew what it was and got the point. They decided to steal it anyway, probably thinking---and I really wish I could come up with a better word for what was going on in their heads---Hey, our audience still includes gangs of leftover Leno fans, they don’t know from Twitter. They still read newspapers.
But then somebody said, Hold on, a second. Bush? Iraq? That’s ancient history! We need to be current!
Ok, somebody else said, let’s just make it about Obama. After all, isn’t one President just like another when it comes to doing stupid shit?
At least, I hope that’s how it came about.
I don’t like the idea that what really happened was that somebody said, We can’t tell a joke about George W. Bush! People will think we’re liberals!
Doesn’t matter. One bad joke doesn’t have to kill a monologue. Fallon’s delivery and the fact that there were no other jokes, good or bad, did the trick.
Maybe it was an off-night, but if this is how it’s been going, please? Can we bring back Jaywalking?
It may be worse than I thought. Searching for a photo to go with this article I came across another of Fallon’s political “jokes” from a couple weeks back.
It’s a killer.
“The ‘True Detective’ finale crashed HBO’s streaming website, HBO Go. Then out of habit, President Obama issued an apology.”
Wow. Mining a thoroughly discredited Mitt Romney talking point for jokes. Comedy gold.