, you should double.”—Actor-comedian Steve Martin, to late-night host Jimmy Fallon, appearing with Martin Short on The Tonight Show, February 14, 2019
In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the “two-minute hate” is a public screaming session in which members of a totalitarian state vent their anguish and frustration toward a politically expedient enemy. It becomes a “hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer.”
In the age of shortened attention spans and social media, that tendency to express one’s suppressed hate has spilled over from politics to entertainment.
When, it’s discovered, performers behind the scenes are not as genial as their public image, the vitriol directed in their direction becomes too much to handle, and damage-control doctors (formerly known as publicity agents) justify their salaries by working overtime and taking any headache remedy at hand.
Rosie O’Donnell, dubbed “The Queen of Nice” by Time Magazine as a daytime talk-show host in the early years she was on, can relate. So, even more so, can Ellen DeGeneres.
Fallon is now in a situation in which every utterance that he or a guest makes is likely to be scrutinized on the spot or reinterpreted at some point in the not-so-distant future, at least sometimes in a manner not originally intended. It’s happening already, in the Tonight Show episode featuring today’s “Quote of the Day.”
Fallon’s critics are citing Steve Martin’s joke as a sly way of pointing out the host’s phoniness—especially since it came right after friend Martin Short’s remark in a similar vein: “This is the greatest show on television because there’s no host on late night that pretends to care the way you do. I mean, no one captures phoniness the way you do.”
A close look at the Martin-and-Short segment in which this exchange took place shows how out of context such criticism is (especially since the two comics lobbed increasingly absurd remarks not only at Fallon but also each other). But that won’t seem so to Fallon haters.
“There’s no business like show business,” advised Irving Berlin, but that adage is only true to an extent. Money passes through show business like all other kinds, bringing with it greed, insecurity, ruthlessness, and the arrogance of power.
If show business does differ from other professions, it is because its members are more glamourous and more charming than the rest of us—and, thus, more adept at concealing their less savory character traits.
The Fallon Fiasco is, in a sense, an outgrowth of the #MeToo movement—which, far more than an attack against the misuse of sex in employment, was an outburst against the misuse of power.
In the wake of these scandals, employees have grown more accustomed to bringing their grievances to journalists. What toxic entertainers and their enablers may have counted on previously—silence—no longer works so well.
In years past, biographers would have to wait at least several days following their subjects’ burial before they could safely state with little fear of recrimination, for instance, that Jackie Gleason was far from “The Great One” to Honeymooners writers, or that Johnny Carson could be variously drunk, verbally abusive, or aloof when not in front of an audience. Quite a difference from today.
Will Fallon be canceled as a result of these revelations? Not necessarily. With the writers’ strike putting TV production on hiatus, he will have more time to work out an apology to the public and not just to his staffers.
If the not-so-subtle hints in the article are true, he could also take the time to go into rehab, in order to deal with the substance abuse that, the Rolling Stone article strongly hints, may have contributed to his moodiness.
In one sense in his remark above, Steve Martin was being more correct than he may have realized with his reference to The National Enquirer. In 2016, a Presidential aspirant arranged to have Enquirer publisher David Packer pay for, then kill, a story that could have damaged his candidacy.
Only now has that “catch-and-kill” program put the candidate in any sort of legal jeopardy—but I’d still bet that he is less likely to face the consequences of that than Jimmy Fallon, whose conduct did far less damage to the American republic.