As a comedian, it is ostensibly Fallon’s job to joke about the world as part of his gig hosting The Tonight Show. However, as the news of the day grows seemingly ever more bleak, questions of whether hosts like Fallon, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver should drop the shtick for serious discourse continue to grow in volume.
In his Humorism newsletter, labor-comedy journalist Seth Simmons assessed the current landscape thusly:
“Criticism of late night is often met with cries that it’s just late night. No one cares! It’s not important! The real joke is having high expectations of Jimmy Fallon. And, well, yeah. That’s the point. Andrew Cuomo goes to Fallon because nobody expects Fallon to treat him like someone whose decisions cost lives. […] The fact that politicians use late night to launder their policies into entertainment is precisely what makes it important.”
As Simmons illustrates, the cultural expectations for what late-night hosts might offer beyond a punchline or karaoke sojourn are so incredibly low that their blunders and corporate kowtowing are regularly forgiven. Such an outcome is almost assuredly guaranteed in the case of Jimmy Fallon’s choice to ridicule a children’s author for writing a book about a grandmother who grows marijuana.
The offense in question occurred during an August 10 segment in which Fallon makes fun of books. Before the context of cannabis is even broached, is ragging on the printed word truly the best use of Fallon and his writers’ resources? Only months removed from a presidential election of profound consequence and days into a deadly heatwave that continues to ravage Fallon’s own state of California, it’s somewhat staggering to contemplate that the collective opinion of The Tonight Show staff was that dissing books was an excellent use of their time.
Moving on from the absurdity of being so bad at comedy that you must resort to finding weird books on Amazon to insult, Fallon’s choice to skewer Susan Soares’ children’s book, “What’s Growing in Grandma’s Garden,” seems especially cruel. The author in question apparently agreed.
In her post, Soares credited Fallon with giving her book “a rankings boost on Amazon” but also criticized the one-time Saturday Night Live star for including her title in the segment, CelebStoner reported.
In the segment, Fallon introduces the book before asking the camera to zoom in on the subtitle (“A Book to Help Grownups Have a Conversation with Children About Cannabis”), leading to scattered laughs from the (admittedly empty) studio.
“Yeah, it’s never too early to teach the kids about how grandma loves to get baked,” he quipped.
On that point, Fallon is quite right. As cannabis continues to go legal in more and more states across the nation, it seems like arguably the most obvious conclusion possible that more education is needed to combat a figurative flood of new marketing, brands, science, political posturing, and yes, family dynamics. Focusing specifically on California, which legalized the sale and consumption of recreational cannabis over two years ago, where is the harm in trying to help children understand why a large subset of adults are suddenly openly consuming a substance that was previously considered “bad” or a secret or both?
To criticize someone for having the forethought to put together a book that humanizes an overwhelming subject into a personal and accessible format is punching down at its finest. Don’t raise a fuss about the COVID-infected prisons where non-violent cannabis prisoners are dying. Don’t shine a light on the rapid corporation of the marijuana industry and the ways in which it is once again leaving Black and brown communities out of the fold.
No, Fallon and his Tonight Show team will never do those things because they would require actually taking a stand. Given Fallon’s preference for sitting comfortably behind a prop desk and letting the world pass by, it would ironically seem the “Taxi” star should in fact by reading more books, not less.