Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert: In Conversation – New Jersey Performing Arts Center (Newark, NJ), 11/24/13

I really need to stay off Twitter.

I thought that I was done buying tickets to shows for the year; I was actually making a conscious effort to scale back as I was getting a little burned out with all the travel (God forbid I go to a show in my own zip code) and my bank account could use a break from the constant depletion. I had a plan.

So there I was, minding my own business, when I saw this tweet from Stephen Colbert:

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Colbert and my pal Jimmy Fallon? In the same room? One night only?

A girl can only be expected to be so strong, people.

So it goes without saying that within one minute of reading that sentence, I had an email confirming my ticket purchase. I don’t mess around. I had taken a quick peek at the calendar to make sure that I was indeed free, but hadn’t put together that this was the Sunday after the Kanye West concert. It was going to be an exhausting and busy weekend. I considered it a feat of amazing willpower that I didn’t spring for the meet and greet tickets; I assume my medal for such an act of fortitude is in the mail.

Not that it really mattered to me, but the event was a fundraiser for the Montclair Film Festival. Colbert lives nearby and serves on the festival’s advisory board; this is the third year that he has done a fundraiser like this for the organization. The inaugural event found Colbert paired with journalist Jon Alter and last year he had a one on one conversation with Jon Stewart. I had heard about the Colbert/Stewart sit down after it happened and was bummed that I missed it since Stewart was pretty darn candid in his comments (don’t expect to ever see Hugh Grant on The Daily Show ever again). I love behind the scenes peeks at pop culture so that interview would have been right down my alley.

Fallon, however, has a very different personality than Stewart so I was not expecting him to say anything remotely controversial; not only is part of Fallon’s charm his desire to be liked by everyone and his penchant for being nice, but he’s about to take over the high profile reigns at The Tonight Show and there is no way he is going to rock the boat before taking on such a gig. So I didn’t anticipate him saying that The Roots are in fact a nightmare to work with – which would be ridiculous anyway – but I figured that he’d be fun and goofy which would be a different kind of entertaining.

I’d never been to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center before, but their theater is absolutely beautiful. I’d been a little confused by the seating chart when I selected my tickets – I thought the seats went back rather than up – but I was fairly happy with my perch on the second tier. Not as close as I would have liked to be, but within an acceptable range for my newfound fiscal responsibility. The only downside was that there weren’t any aisles in the long row of seats, so every time a person wanted to get to their designated spot everyone in the row had to stand up (well, the polite people anyway). I made some small talk with the older woman sitting next to me, who thought I was absolutely bonkers for driving to this thing from Albany; when I told her where I was from, I could have said Mars and I would have gotten the same reaction. I can’t say that I blamed her – a five hour round trip on a Sunday night (in an iffy car) is not how most people want to wrap up their weekend.

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Steve Higgins took the stage to welcome the crowd; a fellow Montclair resident, he is also Fallon’s announcer and sidekick on Late Night. Turns out that he and Colbert are neighbors, which makes me think I need to start spending some more time in Montclair to hobnob with these people. I do, after all, have some Jersey roots. Following his brief remarks about the show and the film festival, a twenty minute video montage was played of the various interactions that Colbert and Fallon have had with each other on their shows. As a loyal viewer of both shows none of this was new to me, but I had forgotten how many ongoing bits that the two of them have done over the years. They’ve had a lot of great collaborations and make a nice team. I was happy to see that the montage included one of my favorite of their bits – Colbert singing Rebecca Blank’s “Friday”:

 

It was fun to revisit the memories, but I could have done with a shorter video; I hadn’t driven all that way to watch clips that I could have watched from the comfort of my couch on Hulu. It was still entertaining, but I was anxious for the main event to begin.

And then there they were! Jimmy looked like he normally does on his show, but Colbert was much more relaxed than he does when he is “in character.” The setting for the discussion was very informal – they sat in two leather chairs with just a small table between them – which gave the whole thing a sense of intimacy. It really was going to be just two guys talking.

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While there was a lot of give and take between the two, Colbert took on more of the role of the interviewer and Fallon as the interviewee. They discussed a typical day for Fallon, his comedy influences (he was a big Rodney Dangerfield fan growing up), the worst jobs that they had ever had and Fallon’s new fatherhood. I knew many of Fallon’s answers on these topics – he covered some of the same areas when he was on Marc Maron’s fabulous podcast WTF back in 2011 – but there was still some info that was new to me. For example, I knew that he and his wife Nancy named their baby Winnie after the family camp on Lake Winnipesaukee where Fallon proposed, but he mentioned that the name was also special to them as they had been trying for a baby for a long time so when they finally were successful it was a real “win” for them. That was some extra info that I didn’t know and I “awwwed” along with the rest of the crowd when he revealed it. He also explained something that I had wondered about for a long time – Higgins’ mysterious disappearance from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon once a week. Turns out that Higgins is doing double duty at NBC and those days that he is off are because he’s over at Saturday Night Live, where he serves as a producer and writer.

Colbert and Fallon often went off on tangents, which made the conversation more spontaneous. I really don’t recall what led to the two of them bursting out into an a cappella version of the National Anthem halfway through the show, but it was pretty impressive. Both of them are very musical – Fallon uses a lot of music on the show and Colbert recently appeared in an all-star production of Company – so it was nice to see them do their thing. Fallon would later bring out his guitar and do some of his more famous song parodies, including his version of Jim Morrison singing the Reading Rainbow theme. I got a giant kick out of that, since it is one thing to see it on TV, but not many people get to see him do it in person. At one point during their interview, they read some of the tweet from people in the audience – sadly mine was not one of them – and they brought one young woman down to the stage who had tweeted about how bad her seats were (based on the amount of time it took her to make it down to the stage, she wasn’t wrong). She got to leave with a pretty great souvenir. They also did some physical comedy and wrestled around on the floor at various points; it was clear throughout the show that they are very fond of each other.

The night ended with a prolonged Q&A from the audience, which is almost always a mistake because people are idiots. Seriously – I hate this kind of audience participation because people ask the dumbest questions and make embarrassing requests that just make everyone uncomfortable. The people of Newark were not disappointing in this regard and reinforced my hatred of unscreened questions from the audience. Unwilling to patiently wait for the microphone to get to them, some people decided to just yell out their questions (Colbert admonished them that they needed some training in manners). Most of the questions were nonsensical – one question about their respective Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavors teaming up against a common enemy led me to believe that there were some good drugs floating around the upper decks – and really added very little to the evening. It was actually not the best note on which to end; I appreciate that they wanted to give fans a chance to be involved, but I would have rather heard more from them rather than invites for coffee afterward. Really, people of Newark/Montclair – get it together. You don’t have to ask a question if you don’t have a legitimate one.

Despite that foolishness, it was still a very fun evening and I’m glad that I went, even if it meant getting home after 2 am for the second night in a row. I didn’t think it was possible for me to like Colbert and Fallon more than I did prior to the event, but they were so charming and likable that I think my heart grew three sizes by the time I was walking out of the theater. I hope that this successful event means that we can look forward to more collaborations between the two of them; I kind of like this new late night regime where everyone seems to like everyone else and gets along. As fun as it is hating on Leno, I look forward to the kinder and gentler reign of late night. From all appearances the event also looked like a successful fundraiser for the film festival; the theater was absolutely packed. I don’t know that I’ll ever go to the Montclair Film Festival, but I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for next year’s fundraiser. An evening with Colbert and Fallon was definitely worth my exhaustion Monday morning. Unsurprisingly, it was a night filled with a lot of laughter.

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