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No one on television has more fun than Jimmy Fallon.
As the new host of The Tonight Show on NBC, Fallon has incorporated the songs, skits, and celebrity games loved by audiences of Late Night. He dances to hip-hop megamixes with Justin Timberlake. He plays charades with Sheryl Crow and Pictionary with Kristen Bell. He makes goofy faces with Jude Law and throws glasses of water at Lindsay Lohan. Starting at 11:34 every night, he has a blast.
Fallon, 39, has made the show his own, and it's not because of his younger face, hipper band, or new reoccurring bits, but something profoundly more rare and special. To a time slot long reserved for cynicism and exasperation, Fallon has brought genuine joy.
During his first Tonight Show monologue, a beaming Fallon told 11.3 million viewers, "My goal is just to make you laugh, so that you go to sleep with a smile on your face and live a longer life. Isn't that the whole goal of what we're doing? To have fun?"
Fallon is a different kind of comedian from Jay Leno, David Letterman, or the host who started it all, Johnny Carson. Instead of insults, we get impressions. Instead of sexual innuendo, we get slapstick silliness. Instead of condescension, we get music parodies. Television critics have noticed that while other late-night comedians try to make fun of people, Fallon simply tries to have fun. Already, the ratings, YouTube views, and trending hashtags tell us America likes what they're seeing.
Fallon's fun-for-fun's-sake attitude has died out in much of comedy, replaced with dark irony that takes itself too seriously or shock-value "adult" humor that seems more targeted at dirty-minded teenagers. Today's popular comics twist jokes into stories of death and depression and hopelessness. At the box office, the funniest broad comedy blockbusters are guaranteed an R rating, with an X-rated DVD box set soon to follow.
Every laugh seems underscored by derision, pain, or shame. ...