In late-night TV, Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon is known as the one who mostly shies away from politics, preferring stunts to screeds, so his pledge Monday night to join the student-led March for Our Lives on March 24 could feel like a departure.
Or it could be Fallon responding to a politically charged tragedy in his signature style — emphasizing the positive, and choosing action over too many words (or potentially divisive specifics).
In Fallon’s first full show since the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Fla. — with the exception of some five-minute segments last week, Tonight was preempted for NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics — Fallon said, “I think what the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are doing is unbelievable. They’re speaking out with more guts, passion, conviction, and common sense than most adults. They’re high school students. It’s beyond impressive. That strength that they have, it’s inspiring. They’re angry, and they’re doing something about it and creating change. This is a real revolution.
“And they have organized a peaceful march on Saturday, March 24, in Washington, D.C., to demand action to prevent gun violence. I just want to say, I stand behind you guys, and I will be marching alongside you, with my wife and two children, in D.C., to show our support. To every one of you who is speaking out: Thank you. I’ll see you March 24.”
On Oct. 2, the night after a gunman opened fire on concertgoers in Las Vegas in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, as some of his fellow late-night hosts called for changes to gun laws, Fallon led with music, scrapping his monologue for a performance of Dido’s “No Freedom” by Miley Cyrus and Adam Sandler.
“In the face of tragedies and acts of terror, we need to remember that good still exists in this world,” said Fallon that night. “We’re here to entertain you tonight, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel entered the debate over health care last year with an emotional monologue after his infant son’s heart surgery, declaring, “No parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life,” and he was passionately vocal about the need for changes in U.S. gun laws after the Las Vegas massacre.
CBS Late Show host Stephen Colbert has been vocal about, well, just about everything that has to do with politics, mostly beginning and ending with President Trump. That approach has helped make him the most-watched host in late night, while at the same time lagging a little behind Fallon among the 18- to 49-year-olds most advertisers target.
Fallon, who famously ruffled Donald Trump’s hair during the 2016 presidential campaign, and who last year told the New York Times, discussing the incident, that “if I let anyone down, it hurt my feelings that they didn’t like it,” isn’t a man who courts controversy. When he took the Tonight Show job, late-show hosts weren’t necessarily expected to have platforms, or even serious opinions.
That world’s changed. Marching with students might be Fallon’s most comfortable way of dealing with it.