Ever since Johnny Carson, “The Tonight Show” has been a staple of late night television. Our grandparents invited Carson into their homes, our parents invited Leno, and now we welcome Jimmy Fallon every evening to commentate, interview and entertain.
Fallon has taken over “The Tonight Show” and is cranking out viral videos every week. Whether he is tag-teaming with Justin Timberlake, impersonating Neil Young or lip syncing with a celebrity guest, one thing is clear: people love being on and watching “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon.
Why is Fallon so appealing? What makes his show a joy to watch? Why is he a great host? I think Fallon’s success can be traced to three key practices: He doesn’t take himself seriously, he puts the spotlight on others and he speaks through culture. I believe Christians can actually learn from Fallon’s example as they attempt to demonstrate the love of Christ. Here’s how:
- Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
Fallon is not afraid to acknowledge his faults. He is quick to laugh at his quirks and cheerfully accepts teasing from his guests. Like all great hosts, Fallon demonstrates that people are attracted to those who are humble.
As believers, we are free to take the gospel seriously without necessarily placing ourselves in the same category. James 4:6 reminds the believer, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” We don’t have to present ourselves as perfect. In a culture where pride is pervasively praised, Fallon shows us that humility can be hilarious, endearing and attractive.
- Give the Spotlight Away
I don’t know if Fallon has ever read Romans 12:10, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor,” but his show is a great example of how to consistently give the spotlight away. For example, most late night shows have a house band; Fallon has The Roots, one of the most celebrated and sophisticated hip-hop groups of the last decade. On most late night shows, the band plays background music and gets the occasional nod from the host. Instead of following this model, Fallon has made The Roots a huge part of his show, offering sketches, punch lines and applause breaks to the band.
Whether at work, home, church or the golf course, we generally want the attention to be on us. We want people to see and celebrate our needs, our gifts, our property and our persons. It has been said that people rarely care how interesting you are, but always care how interested you are. How interested are you in the lives and gifts of those around you? Fallon shows us that making others the focus is not only wise, but enjoyable.
- Learn How to Speak Through Culture
Fallon has learned how to listen to culture and make us laugh by using words, analogies and stories that are familiar to our 21st-century ears. Every time Fallon, a musical guest and The Roots collaborate to do one of their infamous songs using classroom instruments, we all share, tweet and like the video because it does three things: It makes us feel nostalgic for elementary school choir, it connects that nostalgia with a current pop hit we can’t get out of our head and it does these things while making us laugh.
Even the Apostle Paul saw value in using the cultural works of the day to speak to the hearts and minds of his audience. When Paul preaches from the Areopagus, he references an idol to an unknown god and quotes a pagan poet to draw Athenian minds to the superiority of the one true God over the false works of metal and wood they called gods (Acts 17:22-34). Believers should feel free, though not obligated, to use various cultural works (i.e. movies, songs, books, etc.) to point back to Christ. Everything that is Truth will be rooted in the One who gives all good gifts (Jas. 1:17).
So, the next time you tune in to watch “The Tonight Show,” consider these questions: Do I take myself too seriously? Do I outdo those around me in showing honor? Have I learned how to speak through culture by using words, analogies and stories that will make sense? We as Christians have the opportunity to communicate a message that is far more captivating than that of any guest on “The Tonight Show.” The question is, will we be known for communicating this story in a captivating way?