Incarnational Comedy: Reviewing Jimmy’s First Week on the Tonight Show


This is not a traditional review.

It is a series of reflections on the impression made on me after a week of watching Jimmy Fallon’s debut on the Tonight Show. And while I don’t mean to chase trends, I can truly say: he has made an impression on me that has influenced some of my thinking. After all, he’s pretty much the same age as I am, so I’ve been watching his career develop in tandem with my own. And while of course you can’t compare apples to oranges, it is interesting how the career of a comedian can speak to that of a pastor.

Because there is a type of comedian similar to the pastor who utilizes biting satire and scathing critique, yet there is also a type of comedian similar to the type of pastor who is able to get in the crowd and feel personable and relateable, even if sometimes having to challenge.

Jimmy strikes me as the latter.

Especially in light of his predecessors, one of whom draws constant comparisons, lamentably, because I am a fan of both.

But there is a valid point; Conan O’ Brien seemed to be unable to shed his alt / outsider’s persona which was too edgy for NBC (or at least the 11’o clock slot), while Jimmy throughout his career has been able to synthesize both; the edginess combined with the mainstream sensibility AND marketability – which I think is a rare combination.

This ability is unique – to be both edgy AND embracing, off-putting yet at the same time inviting to the masses; prophetic but also popular. Because it’s all too easy to don the prophet’s mantle and deconstruct the establishment to the point that you are left the only one standing in the room, and that seems to somehow miss the point;

What is the “establishment” but a dismissive way of saying “the people”?

And if we ministers really care about people, then maybe we can take a cue from Jimmy and learn the art of making fun with them, not fun of them or at them. It is incarnational comedy. Ministry is incarnational comedy. It is the labor of playful prophetic critique that invites people into the irony of themselves, without tragically losing them in the process. The Message may have merit; the Method may need some coaching.

And as corny as it may sound, I’ve actually taken this away from a week of watching Jimmy. He’s a guy that is just edgy enough to stay fresh; but inviting enough to keep people laughing with him, even if they are the butt of the joke (maybe with the exception of Harry Styles. But Jimmy makes it so much fun that even poor Harry’s got to be laughing too).

Deconstructing ideas, theories, texts, and people may seem the common domain of both pastor and comedian. But can we do it in a way that invites people into the story and into the punchline, so that we are all laughing together by the end?

Can we do it like Jimmy does it?

People are coming for you. The Tonight Show is big and historic but people are coming for your heart…

What happens a lot of times when you see people fail in this business is they’re in it for their ego and they’re doing it for them.’

‘I tell them keep loving people. Your art is a gift to people to help their lives be better and to be brighter.

– Great advice from Will Smith to Jimmy on the first night.

Published by Wayne Park

Asian-American clergyman thinking about issues of faith, place, race and culture-making in the vast city of Houston, TX

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