Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now that the news about Jimmy Fallon replacing Jay Leno at The Tonight Show is official, we’re left to speculate about who will take Fallon’s spot on Late Night. The leading contender appears to be Seth Meyers, but the whole thing has us wondering: Who would you choose to replace Jimmy Fallon at Late Night if you were the type of God-person who makes those decisions?
For me, the biggest draw about Jimmy Fallon is the sense that he’s knowledgeable about culture in a nerdy, passionate sort of way, but that he doesn’t take himself at all seriously in the process. The first person that came to mind who fits both those bills is Patton Oswalt. A.V. Clubbers know first-hand that Oswalt has deeper thoughts about pop-culture than an awful lot of the people involved in making it, but he also has no problems sending up his image. I’d love to see him get into a Stephen Colbert-level geek-off with his guests about the nitty-gritty details of what they’re working on, and he’s enough of a celebrity to not have to kowtow to other celebrities. My only worry about him as a Fallon stand-in is that I think Fallon is a much better singer, at least if Oswalt’s “The Bugged Car” routine is any evidence.
Tina Fey has reportedly turned down Lorne Michaels’ offer to take over Late Night, citing the fact that she’s too busy with projects she had to put off while alternately running, writing, and starring in other shows he’s produced for the past 16 years. But since the prompt for this AVQ&A puts me in the shoes of a God-person who can shape the universe in manners the creator of Saturday Night Live is still a few years away from grasping, I’d try to change Fey’s mind by offering her a tag-team Late Night gig with her comedy BFF, Amy Poehler. The duo built up plenty of experience riffing on headlines behind the Weekend Update desk, and their hosting job at this year’s Golden Globes was a universally praised endeavor immune to even the most toxic online snark. (Give or take Taylor Swift and her special level of hell.) And if Fey wants to free up some time by skipping out on the interview segments, Poehler can handle that half of Late Night as an extension of her web series Smart Girls At The Party. A Fey-Poehler Late Night would make for a fresh, funny change of perspective in late-night, if not a change of format—though, at this point, it seems unlikely that even a God-person can change the genetic makeup of the late-night talk show.
It makes me want to scream that it seems to be such a boom time for up-and-coming comics and writers to be getting their own shows, but the ladies seem to be relegated to sitcoms. So Julie Klausner would solve my “not enough funny ladies on TV” conundrum. She isn’t as big a name as RuPaul or Tina Fey, but nobody had heard of Conan O’Brien when he started out, and he turned out okay. More importantly, based on her podcast How Was Your Week and the other work she’s done, I think she’d bring something fresh to the late-night TV landscape, a distinct voice that isn’t Chelsea Handler, Amy Poehler, or Joan Rivers. Klausner has her own point of view and taste, but is good at finding common ground with interview subjects who aren’t necessarily right in her sweet spot. She’s done lots of online videos, so she’d have Internet appeal the way Fallon does, and between her live-show experience and her existing interview format, I think she’d actually slide right into that role well. Plus, between her own humor and the many pals she has in the comedy community, the show would probably be funny as hell and elicit strong reactions in general, which is a good thing any way you slice it.
While there are a lot of people that, in a dream world, I’d like to see host a late-night chat show—Pete Holmes, Jon Hamm, and MTV’s Josh Horowitz all come to mind—I have to go with the name that’s actually been bandied around in the media ever since it was announced that Fallon was moving on up: Seth Meyers. A die-hard pun aficionado myself, I find Meyers’ smarmy and smart humor charming. He makes SNL’s Weekend Update worth watching, whether he’s alone or with a co-host, and that makes me believe he could nail the nightly monologue that a talk show apparently requires. I’ve also seen him in interviews on various talk shows, and he has the seasoned improviser’s gift of quick-wittedness and the ability to just flow along with whatever conversation is happening, good or bad. And while it would be cool to say, “Oh, you know who should do it? This guy I follow on Twitter, because I think he’s funny,” I’d rather pick someone to take over that I know could succeed, or at least has the tactical know-how to do a late-night show. I bet on winners.
Like Marah’s pick, Seth Meyers’ SNL cohort John Mulaney seems like a safe but solid choice. (And lets not pretend a network late-night show is ever going to make anything other than the safe, solid choice.) Yes, Mulaney is another well-groomed, non-threatening white male who’s put in time behind the SNL Weekend Update desk, but his comedy style seems so well-suited to the late-night format it feels like a no-brainer: observational and just a tiny bit absurd—not too much!—with a certain Old Hollywood/vaudeville slant that’s reminiscent of Conan at his silliest. (Plus, Late Night executive producer Lorne Michaels obviously likes him.) Mulaney’s comedy has a really good balance of smart and silly (see the SNL character he helped create, Bill Hader’s Stefon), plus a puckish sensibility that would keep his monologues and guest interviews interesting. (Mulaney has repeatedly talked about how he enjoys trying to make Hader break during the Stefon segments.) Frankly, if he weren’t already attached to his own sitcom right now, I think he’d be in the conversation about likely replacements. But it’s a sure bet he’ll be a stellar future guest on whatever iteration of the show ends up materializing.
All due respect to my colleagues and their fine suggestions, Seth Meyers himself, and all of the other suggestions I’ve seen floated around elsewhere on the Internet, but late-night talk shows are already an avalanche of funny white guys playing around with formats developed by Steve Allen that haven’t really evolved past Johnny Carson and David Letterman. It gets to the point where even the late-night hosts I like start to blend together into one giant lump. (I’m half convinced one of the reasons Daily Show and The Colbert Report remain must-viewing for most critics while other late-night shows tend to slide is because those shows are each half an hour long, and both of them tweak the talk-show format just enough to feel wildly different.) So let’s return to a different abandoned evolutionary path late-night might have taken: the interview/argument show. The prime example of this—and still one of the best late-night shows ever made—was The Dick Cavett Show, and what made it so great was that Cavett, a fantastic interviewer with a ready wit, stocked the show with people who would have interesting things to say to each other. It rarely turned physical, but the arguments often got heated. They’d touch on the politics, culture, and news of the day, and the guests would seem to have as much fun revving each other up as they would anything else. Creating a show like this would require finding a great referee, someone who could ask the probing questions that open celebrities up when they’re on the couch next to Pope Francis or Rush Limbaugh or David Axelrod or whomever, but also someone who can cut the tension with a quick joke or two, as Cavett was so great at doing. So let me take a total flier and suggest blogger and author Ta-Nehisi Coates. I have no idea if he’d be a good host, but I’ve liked him the few times I’ve seen him on chat programs, and he’s great at wrangling an unruly comments section. Let’s see what he can do with an hour of TV time!
I have no idea if Kyle Kinane has ever interviewed anybody in his life, but I think he’s quick, hilarious, and just edgy enough to make that later late-night slot interesting again. No offense to Fallon, who I think is likeable and occasionally very funny, but he’s just as big a people-pleaser as Jay Leno. For those who long for a slightly anarchic spirit in late-night TV, Kinane could be our man. He’s just stoned enough to ask funny, biting questions, yet boyishly charming enough to get away with it.
Why does the person who replaces Fallon at 12:35 automatically have to be a comedian? I’d rather see a return to the Tom Snyder one-on-one format of in-depth interviews. However, we’d need to get someone relatively young and hip to do it, someone who has the interviewing skills to pull off a compelling hour four days a week, and who already has buddies who can come on for easy entertainment and laughs when needed. All of these factors add up to a choice I never thought of before just now: Anderson Cooper. He failed in daytime and wants a bigger platform than he has now on CNN. So why not put him in a Charlie Rose-style studio and just let him talk to people for an hour? Every so often, he’ll be able to bring on Kathy Griffin or Kelly Ripa or any number of his admirers to goof around in risqué fashion for a night. But he’d be so comfortable in this format, I could see it taking off immediately.
Like Joel and Todd, I’m not that interested in seeing another comedian take over Late Night. I’d much rather have something more akin to Dick Cavett as well, with smart people talking about interesting issues (and maybe some rock performances thrown in). That being said, my vote is for radio host (and fellow Canadian) Jian Ghomeshi. Since taking over the morning slot on the CBC, Ghomeshi has reached the most listeners on the station ever, with good reason. He’s one of the best interviewers working at the moment, and the breadth of his personal essays and interviewees is large (he’s hosted a battery of celebrities, but just this week did a piece on how car companies pretty much advertise only to men). We know he can handle tough guests from his brush with Billy Bob Thornton, and he’s got a nice outsider status from the typical, East Coast White Dude late-night usually runs with. (Ghomeshi is of Iranian descent, and lived in England before Canada.) He’s already broken into American radio here in Chicago as well as New York, but I’d love to see him do his thing even bigger.
Although it looks at least semi-possible that Stephen Fry won’t be available for the gig, having recently signed on for the CBS pilot Super Clyde, I’d be beside myself if NBC were to announce that they’d selected him to take over the reins of Late Night. He’s got a notoriously quick wit, and he’s done well with the quiz-show format in the U.K., having hosted QI since 2003, so there’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t be capable of handling his own chat show. Mind you, it’s likely that it would be one of the more highbrow efforts in the genre, and would possibly prove more intellectual than comedic, but I’ve no doubt that it would be consistently enthralling. Indeed, Fry is one of the few individuals who might well be able to convince me to watch something other than The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson at 12:30, which is ironic given that it was Ferguson’s “experiment” with Fry in 2010—an hourlong interview done without a studio audience—that made me think about him as a contender for a hosting gig in the first place.
Being a late-night host requires a skill set to rival a Navy SEAL’s, but the most important quality for the job is likeability. Audiences have to have genuine affection for a performer to want to spend time with them night in and night out, year after year. That’s why Chevy Chase and Jerry Lewis famously crashed and burned as talk-show hosts: Audiences could see the evil in their souls, and consequently changed the channel. It would be hard to imagine a duo more likeable than The Sklar Brothers, the identical-twin stand-up comedy team whose Sklarbro Country and Sklarbro County podcasts are consistent delights. The Sklars are the comedy equivalent of what in baseball is known as a five-tool player. They’re frighteningly smart and lightning-fast in a way that never calls attention to itself, but betrays an exceedingly broad frame of reference. (Hell, they host a comedy podcast devoted to the seemingly antithetical worlds of indie rock and sports, and they appeal to a wide audience that isn’t necessarily interested in either.) And they possess a remarkable ability to seem genuinely interested and engaged by everything, whether it’s a guest’s project, the speed and efficiency of Stamps.com, or the stylishness of Bonobos pants. If you can seem passionate, genuine, and sincere while reading sponsor copy on a podcast, then acting fascinated by a NASCAR driver or supermodel should be a breeze.
I stopped watching late-night talk shows after high school, and there’s only one person who could get me to plant myself in front of the TV five times a week to watch hit-or-miss jokes and celebrities hawking their latest projects: RuPaul. This is the man who got his big break because Arsenio Hall didn’t want to cut to commercial when he was a guest, and he has hosting experience back from his VH1 days. It would be awesome if the producers could find a way to have him in and out of drag in every episode; maybe Ru could be his own MC? Late Night could be the first show where the host is also the sidekick, or he can always just bring Michelle Visage to trash up the joint. RuPaul has the charisma, nerve, and talent for the job, and it would be nice to see someone on late-night TV who isn’t a straight white man.
I’ve already been bleating about this on Twitter, but let me be the first to get it out there and demand that Chris Gethard take the Late Night slot and be given free rein to do whatever he wants. His public-access Chris Gethard Show is a beautiful, anarchic, thriving beast, and the immediate fear is that what really powers it is the utter freedom granted by the lack of network notes and studio control. If Gethard were on NBC at 12:35, he probably wouldn’t be able to field calls from regular fans, or construct a whole episode where he’s bossed around and tortured by a professional dominatrix. But I’m sure he’d be the first to point out that a lot of the stuff he’s doing is incredibly accessible, and sometimes even gets echoed on more “professional” late-night programs. The recent takeover of Jimmy Kimmel Live by Matt Damon for one night was a lot like the episode when Gethard’s show was hijacked by the hated Hintmaster. More importantly, Gethard has the kind of personal, oversharing charm that inspires a devoted fan base, and I have no doubt he’d just expand his cult if he got to follow Fallon every week. Plus, Sandwich Night would officially become a national holiday.
As this site has tirelessly documented, the world of podcasting offers up the best range of today’s comic voices. But it’s not enough to simply have a honed persona behind a microphone in order to be a candidate to replace Jimmy Fallon: You also need on-camera presence, affability, and charisma to keep an audience’s attention after midnight. So why not pick someone who has experience in both worlds and would bring a unique point of view to late-night television: Aisha Tyler. It’s hard to call one of the co-hosts of The Talk an “outsider,” but there are few of her gender or race in this part of the television spectrum. We know from her time on The Talk that she’s comfortable in front of a studio audience. But it’s her Girl On Guy podcast that leads me to believe she’d be a compelling figure to fill Fallon’s slot. Taking the best of both aspects of her career could conceivably create a new hybrid show that wouldn’t completely abandon the tropes we associate with late-night television, but could bring the genre into new territory. She’s smart, funny, attractive, and can hold court on a variety of topics that appeal to both men and women. Selecting Tyler wouldn’t just be good buzz, it’d be good business.