Safe to say Jimmy Fallon is a success.
A six-year stint on Saturday Night Live turned him into a celebrity (Weekend Update, anyone?). Hosting Late Show with Jimmy Fallon made him a friend to college kids on all-nighters and culture-curious middle-age-sters alike — the latter catching up with his antics via YouTube clips posted the morning after the broadcast.
Then last year Fallon replaced Jay Leno as the host of legendary The Tonight Show and suddenly he was a household name.
The fact that NBC just extended Fallon’s Tonight Show contract all the way to 2021 — a century in TV time — is a sure sign of his success. And watching him, albeit on YouTube, makes it clear the contract extension is a good thing for us all.
Whether Fallon’s dictating absurd thank you notes to the likes of “relish, for being the scary story pickles tell around the campfire,” beat boxing with Will Smith, challenging Helen Hunt to a game of beer pong, playing Wheel of Impressions with Seth MacFarlane or Kevin Spacey or Wheel of Musical Impressions with Adam Levine or Christina Aguilera, or teaching us six volumes worth of the history of rap with the help of Justin Timberlake (no slouch himself in the comedy department), the man makes us smile.
But what’s even more wonderful to watch is how he makes himself smile. (As one YouTube comment so eloquently put it, “He must have to pinch himself sometimes.”)
Fallon had a reputation on SNL as being the one who was never able to stay in character when a sketch turned funny — stifling laughter just when he should have soldiered on. That got annoying when he was playing somebody else. But on The Tonight Show, it’s a pleasure to watch because he’s just playing himself.
In her wonderful book Raising Happiness, director of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley Christine Carter talks about finding “intrinsic motivation” as one key to a person’s happiness. She argues that looking for external validation or reward might feel good in the short term but doesn’t translate into happiness in the long run because it relies on others to provide it. On the flip side, finding personal enjoyment in whatever you’re doing is easy to recreate because it comes from within and is therefore available to you 24/7 (or at least 21/5, depending on what else is going on in your life).
I’m positive Fallon works long and hard to put on a good show and that he enjoys the creative and fiscal success it has brought him, but I’m also positive he truly enjoys doing it (at least most of the time) and would continue to do it even if those other rewards ran out. That makes him an exemplar of intrinsic motivation — and a role model for people of all ages who think the pursuit of happiness is a noble one.
*piano music* So thank you, Jimmy Fallon, for reminding me of the value of intrinsic motivation. For teaching me that you really can make music with those kids’ classroom instruments littering my living room. And more importantly, for giving meaning to all those otherwise time-wasting morning forays down the YouTube rabbit hole.