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Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

Patrick McManus | Sunday, February 5, 2012


On the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday before the Super Bowl, “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” was filmed from the Hilbert Circle Theatre in downtown Indianapolis. It was the show’s first venture outside of studio 6B in New York’s Rockefeller Center. In support of NBC’s broadcast of the big game on Sunday, “Late Night” did its part to drum up excitement around football and the city of Indianapolis, though that hardly seems necessary. This reporter was lucky enough to be in the audience for the taping of Wednesday’s show. 

The Hilbert Circle Theatre seats 1,781, which by Jimmy Fallon’s own off-screen estimation, is 12 times more than “Late Night’s” usual studio audience. The theatre is located in the center of downtown Indianapolis in Monument Circle, usually home to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, who for Wednesday’s program sat in with the “greatest band in late night,” the legendary Roots crew. Other differences from the show’s usual format included a guest announcer, as Steve Higgins stayed in New York to work on producing “Saturday Night Live.” Higgins was replaced by NFL Hall of Fame athlete Deion Sanders, who announced the show’s guests, Tracy Morgan, Tim Tebow, and the All-American Rejects, and the host, Jimmy Fallon. 

Wednesday’s first segment after Fallon’s monologue was Head Swap, a humorous bit ostensibly about switching the heads of various celebrities, but actually centered on a lengthy introduction that tells the story of how the bit came to be. The skit’s incarnation featured, among other things, the kidnapping of Bob Costas. That video was followed by another, this one the final cut of Jimmy’s Subs Across America project, where viewers sent in videos of them catching and throwing Subway sandwiches in front of landmarks in their area.  It was a very gimmicky bit, with obvious corporate overtones, but Mr. Fallon’s unflagging enthusiasm made it all work.

The first guest was “SNL” alum and “30 Rock” star Tracy Morgan, who for some reason wore a pair of bedazzled jeans. Mr. Morgan required only the slightest prompting from inquirer Fallon to go off on a variety of subjects, including how former Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson used to sell fish to his grandfather from a white van and how Morgan grew up with a crash-helmet adorned with Tom Brady (one assumes, of course, that everything Morgan says is entirely fictitious). Interestingly, cut from the broadcast version of the interview but a part of the afternoon’s taping, was a remarkable train of thought that took Morgan from collapsing at a Sundance Film Festival event and being visited in the hospital by “Mitch” Romney, to Obama hasn’t done anything for him, drinking beer and arguing about the Knicks at Camp David, to drinking beer and arguing about the Knicks in the cockpit with Captain Sully, to inexplicably finding himself on the Hudson, to finally using a bird hitting the engine as an excuse to his wife.

The next guest, Tim Tebow, was not as funny, except for when he criticized Fallon’s singing in a bit that aired a few weeks ago that imagined a Tebow/David Bowie conglomeration. Tebow did of course discuss his charitable works, including building a hospitable in the Philippines. He concluded by launching an autographed jersey into the crowd (it landed just three rows behind me!). The All-American Rejects’ performance concluded the show. 

The biggest difference between the Fallon show in New York and Indianapolis must have been the audience. Sure, there were the grizzled New Yorkers who followed the Giants as much as they did Fallon to Indy, but the bulk of viewers were natives, whose cheers expressed sheer joy at seeing something live that had only come to them through the television. 

Contact Patrick McManus at [email protected]