Jimmy Fallon Explains to Paul Shaffer Why All Comedians Laugh Like Him

Legendary bandleader and late night second banana Paul Shaffer made another appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on Friday night. But this time, he brought some guests with him—The World’s Most Dangerous Band.

The group filled in for The Roots on the broadcast, something of a homecoming considering they were the house band “across the hall” for Late Night With David Letterman at NBC. (Shaffer noted it was 41 years ago “this week.”) 

Though the band has undergone a number of personnel changes—drummer Steve Jordan split in the late 80s to play with everyone from Keith Richards to John Mayer, to be replaced by the rimshot-ready Anton Fig, and they even were forced to change their name to the CBS Orchestra when David Letterman created The Late Show at that network—it’s fair to say that their brand of upbeat, bluesy rock became the de facto style for all future late night shows. (A music theorist could maybe argue that there really isn’t that much difference between the old school Doc Severnisen-style of band and Shaffer’s, but at the time, it did feel like a sea change.) 

While cutting back-and-forth to commercial, Jimmy Fallon didn’t just pay homage to the group during this rare television appearance, but also (correctly) hailed Shaffer for his lasting legacy in comedy. It is Fallon’s belief that the 73-year-old Toronto-born keyboardist is actually the lodestar for the way all comedians laugh.

“You changes the face of comedy, as well,” Fallon told his guest bandleader. “You would laugh at a joke … and sometimes if the audience wouldn’t really laugh, you would go ‘Ahhhh!’”

“That’s when you knew it was funny!” 

Fallon explained that Letterman’s style of humor (sometimes intensely dry, sometimes cynical, sometimes intentionally unfunny for the purpose of being funny; it’s hard to explain what made Letterman such an innovator) could zoom over the heads of the studio audience, but was loved by “comedy nerds.” 

“Because of you—every comedian laughs like you,” Fallon said. He cited Tina Fey specifically, but if you happen to have any comics in your life, you know that this is an insightful observation. It’s as if those who create comedy can’t just chuckle at something, they have to react in a way that says “I acknowledge that this is a joke.”

Elsewhere in the broadcast, Fallon took advantage of having the musical polymath Paul Shaffer with him to run down “As It Was” by Harry Styles in a variety of styles. It’s impossible to ever picture Letterman doing a wacky bit like this, but it’s good to see Shaffer game for just about anything.

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