Jimmy Fallon’s sin isn’t blackface. If the controversy surrounding him were real, long before cancel culture sunk its teeth into "The Tonight Show" host they would have attacked ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel for the same sin. But they didn’t and they won’t. For the same reason everything is a controversy or not these days, it always comes down to the same, predictable thing: Donald Trump.
If you’re wondering how I got here, hang with me. In case you’re most people who don’t concern yourself with social media mobs and celebrity culture, let’s get caught up. A video surfaced online from a performance Fallon delivered 20 years ago when he was a cast member on "Saturday Night Live." In the sketch, Fallon was dressed in heavy make-up and wig (blackface, says the mob) to pull off a Chris Rock impression. (It was a really good impression).
The two-decade-old video had been scrubbed long ago from NBC’s archives and virtually anywhere you might find it. We can presume in an attempt to stave off a day just like this. But someone, somewhere found just enough of the roughly edited clip to create a pop-culture wokeness riot amongst the keyboard warriors of America.
Within 24 hours, Jimmy Fallon was on his knees pleading with the mob to forgive his trespasses and know that in his heart he has learned his lesson, he’s so ashamed, and he can only hope he can prove he’s not really a racist, just ignorant to the pain caused….blah, blah, blah. Insert boilerplate network public relations verbosity yet to come.
As a naturally curious person, my first thoughts about the ordeal were not those of outrage and groupthink. Instead, I read the story and asked myself, “Why now? To what end? Why Fallon? What don’t we know?”
The most obviously missing element to the story is Chris Rock himself. As I write this, a full 48 hours plus since erupting – you can’t find a word from Chris Rock about it. Not one. Not a tweet, not a statement through management, not a “no comment.” Zilch.
Doesn’t that seem strange? Purely speculating, but there’s a reason. I’ll bet Chris Rock doesn’t care. I’ll bet he called Fallon personally when he heard the news and said something like, “Don’t sweat it. This is ridiculous. Hang in there.” For the media, that’s a HUGE narrative problem.
Rock doesn’t get animated over people in entertainment, particularly comics and performers going for a laugh. He’s not comedy police. He’s not looking for offense. He’s the opposite of Twitter, and that would make for a decidedly unsexy headline. “Chris Rock Thinks Fallon Isn’t Racist. Sketch Was Funny.” That’s a dud in the click-bait era.
I know, I know. The woke scream, “Rock isn’t the point! It doesn’t matter what he thinks! It’s still wrong!” Is that so? Ask yourself why Jimmy Kimmel, host of his own variety show on ABC wrote, produced, and performed blackface sketches as NBA great Karl Malone during his run as co-host of “The Man Show” at the very same time Fallon was doing his Rock impression on "SNL." To date, not a word of criticism has been uttered. No Twitter self-flagellation from Kimmel about “learning to be better.”
In fact, if you search Jimmy Kimmel for news headlines featuring “apology” or “regret,” etc. only one distantly related story pops up from The Atlantic in March of 2018 titled, I kid you not, “Forgiving Jimmy Kimmel.” He was about to host the Oscars in the height of the #MeToo mob and The Atlantic was addressing concerns of Kimmel’s past resume entry as “Man Show” host on Comedy Central. No issues with him doing blackface. Nope, not a word is written. Just some light tut-tutting over him once declaring his show a “joyous celebration of chauvinism.”
But they asked their readers to forgive him. Why? Because they like his politics more than they disapprove of his past. Kimmel objectifying women is forgivable today because of the emotional, sincere political advocacy he’s done over the years on his show for Obama, and gun control, and socialized medicine since. “Yeah, he’s a skirt-chasing cad, but he supports the politics we do, so let’s lighten up on the guy for being the antitheses of our current crusade.”
Which brings us back to Fallon and why he doesn’t receive such a generous pass from the media today. It’s simply because Fallon is one of two or three hosts left, and the only one on the major networks who won’t turn his variety show into a Trump-bashing, liberal politics show.
"The Tonight Show" – to its third-place ratings detriment, I’m sorry to say – has tried to stick primarily to the formula of being a light, fun, silly show, mostly free of antagonistic politics. Fallon’s style is goofy, aw-shucks, and playful. He purposely pretends to be disinterested in “real” news. “He’s cute,” say many middle-aged women I know.
But Fallon’s ultimate, unforgivable sin is one for which he will never atone but even now still tries. It was the night he dared to invite presidential candidate Donald Trump on his show in 2016 and didn’t bully and badger him. Rather, he just joked with Trump, had some laughs, sked Trump if he could mess up his hair. This was when "The Tonight Show" was still number one in the time slot.
Trump came off as friendly, affable, human, and relatable (which he really is). For this, Jimmy Fallon was, is, and forever will be branded as the variety show host that had the chance to take Trump down and instead “normalized” him and possibly helped push him into the White House. I’m serious. People in entertainment journalism have written it.
Fallon has done plenty of begging for forgiveness since. But he still won’t commit to turning his show into the DNC rallies his competitors do on ABC and CBS, which means he must be destroyed. It’s possible this leaked tape came from someone inside the show who’s trying to end Fallon’s career so they can finally turn "The Tonight Show" into the partisan rally for which they’d rather work. Yes, the business is that sinister.
Nuance, tone, intent, history – none of that matters. Only your politics today matter. “Offensive" is only offensive when your politics don’t match the mobs’ politics. Need proof? Joe Biden told a black man to his face on Friday “you ain't black” if you vote for Trump. Yet who’s getting pummeled at this hour for racist conduct? It’s not the guy who wants to be elected President of the United States in five months. It’s a TV show host from a 20-year-old bit.
Forgive me if I doubt the mob’s sincerity.