The notoriously accident-prone Jimmy Fallon is beloved by A-listers for his well-rated softball interviews, and by American TV audiences because, well, he’s on. The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon is the talk show equivalent of hanging out in your rich cousin’s game room; he’s nice, boring, and you don’t talk about anything serious or memorable—but there’s air hockey, a pool table, and an N64.
But though your time there is mostly harmless fun, there’s always something a little off about the experience. For your cousin, it’s when he screams at the dog. For Fallon, it’s when he assumes the identity of a teenage girl named Sara and starts screaming, “Ew!”
Ew!, a popular and long-running segment on his show, is a nasty little piece of comedy—one that doesn’t attempt to draw laughs from clever writing or situations, but from the simple fact that a grown man would deign to act like a young girl. He thinks it’s funny for a straight man to wear a dress and a wig, to speak like a drunk baby, and to jump up and down with a limp wrist after seeing a friend. There are no insights or clever jokes here—only bad caricatures based on teen girls who I’m not sure actually exist—and its punchline is a one-word exclamation (“Ew!”) because the thing about girls is that they think everything is gross.
Why didn’t he choose to play an obnoxious teen boy in the segment? Because he thinks girls are funnier.
I don’t think Fallon has read about Marley Dias, the 11-year-old who started a nationwide campaign to get more black female leads in books for children and young adults. Or Madison Kimrey, the 13-year-old activist who wants people to know the importance of voting. Or any of the countless teen girls whose world-views extend far beyond their iPhones. (Did you hear the one about girls outperforming boys in school?) Fallon’s suggestion, intentional or not, that all of them are vapid, Snapchat-obsessed looneys who do nothing but scream and take selfies is an unfortunate reminder that our culture has a history of treating the lives and struggles of girls and women less seriously than those of their male counterparts. It’s no wonder so many girls around the world underestimate themselves.
Over a decade ago, Rachel Dratch and Maya Rudolph had a recurring sketch on SNL in which they played the young hosts of a high school morning show called Wake Up, Wakefield. Maya assumed the role a Megan, a smart, bashful boy-crazy Tina Belcher type (obsessed with an older boy named Randy Goldman, who was played by Jimmy Fallon), and Dratch played Sheldon, the nerdy basket case whose love for Megan went unrequited. Despite the costumes and gender-swapping, there was a tenderness to their portrayals of teenage awkwardness. Laughs came not from something as simple as seeing a grown man in a dress, but from being reminded of the things you cared about as a teen, before life got too messy and the world expanded beyond just home and school. You knew kids like Megan and Sheldon—maybe you were one of them.
No one but Jimmy Fallon has ever been Sara from Ew! For that, we are lucky. But until it goes away forever, we could all be a little luckier.
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Image via screengrab.