Jimmy Fallon: Late Night's Music Man

The host kicks off the fourth year of his NBC show Monday riding high off Springsteen Week and a string of increasingly hilarious song parodies.

By Jere Hester
|  Monday, Mar 5, 2012  |  Updated 5:58 AM CDT
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Jimmy Fallon's come a long way from the guy who cracked up in the "Cowbell" sketch a dozen years ago.

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Last week’s “Springsteen Week” edition of “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” packed powerhouse performances by Elvis Costello, Kenny Chesney and The Boss himself. But the most memorable number proved a week-capping grand finale starring Fallon.

The host donned his Neil Young guise to sing a harmonica-infused version of LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It,” joined near the end by Bruce Springsteen – igniting the latest viral music video produced by the show, as it marked its third anniversary Friday night.

Fallon, riding high off Springsteen Week and a string of increasingly hilarious song parodies, kicks off the fourth year of his NBC show Monday as late night comedy’s top music man – a title few would have predicted for the guy who cracked up during the classic “Cowbell” sketch on “Saturday Night Live.”

Fallon’s first smart move was recruiting The Roots as his house band. He’s also been savvy about mixing new artists and classic acts, paying homage in past themed weeks to the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and Bob Marley. But he’s carved out his deepest – and potentially most enduring – niche as a musical imitator and song parodist.

He’s put his uncanny Young impression to work before with his version of “Pants on the Ground,” inspired by a memorable “American Idol” wannabe, and his mellow take on Willow’s “Whip My Hair,” another duet with Springsteen. Fallon’s ambitious 2010 “History of Rap” number with Justin Timberlake marked a symbolic turning point in establishing the identity of a program that got off to a somewhat shaky start. We thought Fallon would never surpass his demented version of Jim Morrison singing the theme from “Reading Rainbow” in November, until his debut two months later as “Tebowie,” a whimsical melding of Tim Tebow and David Bowie.

Give Fallon credit for sticking to his plan to give his show as much of an identity on the Internet as on the tube – in large part via his musical parodies, which likely have been seen by more folks online than on TV. Fallon owes a debt to David Letterman, who not only proved that comedy could thrive in the once Siberia-like 12:30 a.m. timeslot but also showed the potential, along with Paul Shaffer, of late-night weekday TV as a prime place to rock. It’s worth noting that Letterman’s final surprise guest on his last NBC show in 1993 was Springsteen, who sung him out with “Glory Days.”

The Boss and his E Street Band rolled out tracks from his new album “Wrecking Ball” on Fallon’s show last Monday and Friday, with fine performances by Chesney and Costello in between (check out Costello and The Roots’ web-only inspired reggae take on “Fire”). But no doubt the most indelible image of the week was Springsteen, dressed in his circa 1985 “Born in the USA” getup, singing the “Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle” chorus from “Sexy and I Know It.” Check out the video below as we await Fallon’s next stop at the intersection of music and comedy:
 

 

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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