Admittedly, I thought Jimmy Fallon’s move to late night back in 2009 was a bad idea. He had seemed like a lightweight during his SNL years — never able to keep a straight face through a sketch — and even with the Roots in tow, he seemed too much the douchey white boy to have earned the seat that Conan O’Brien had spent so many years keeping warm.
I was wrong.
Aside from having a knack for creating musically viral moments — ”The History of Rap” and so on — Fallon has goosed the tired talk show format just enough: No longer is it the case that guests come on and spend 10 minutes pitching their movie or show and sharing a pre-approved anecdote. Now they’re likely to get into a egg-smashing contest with Fallon — working with the host to create entertainment. Does anybody remember the “talk” from Fallon’s talk show? I don’t. But that’s OK: The man has played to his strengths and succeeded as a result.
It wasn’t until this week, though, that I realized I’ll be rooting for Fallon when he moves to the Tonight Show slot that's being vacated by Jay Leno early in 2014. There he’ll be competing against Dave Letterman, sure, but more directly with Jimmy Kimmel, the other white fortysomething guy over on ABC at the same hour.
Why have I chosen sides? Because Fallon is sweeter.
No, really. This week, both Fallon and Kimmel pulled pranks on unsuspecting viewers. Kimmel had his viewers make videos of telling their children that they wouldn’t get to eat any of their Halloween candy…
...which, let’s make no bones about it, is kind of a dick move.
Meanwhile, Fallon had some fans in to listen to a recording of Mariah Carey … only to let them discover that she was in the room, serenading them personally.
Which is a terribly sweet thing to do.
Kimmel has created a lot of stuff I’ve laughed at. His “rivalry” with Matt Damon. His willingness to go on Jay Leno’s show and mock Leno to his face. But he’s also more willing, simply, to be mean.
Maybe I’m getting old. But I enjoy seeing Fallon bring joy to somebody’s face more than I like seeing Kimmel make kids cry. In the next generation of late-night wars, my vote is for Jimmy Fallon.
Follow @joelmmathis on Twitter.