ORLANDO — Jimmy Fallon is so nice, he couldn't even properly poke fun at Florida.
Oh, sure, there were some funny bits in his sold-out taping of the Tonight Show at Universal Orlando on Monday, like how hot, rainy June is the worst time to come to "sunny, beautiful Florida." "Why'd we have to pick now?" Fallon crowed. He joked about how he's still getting used to the humidity (it makes his hair poofy) and how the Miami Heat are lousy (their jerseys are cheap in the gift shop).
The best Florida-centric reference was the show's pretaped opening segment, a parody of ABBA's Fernando song turned into Orlando and a spoof of the Miami Vice opening credits — with Fallon and Tonight Show announcer Steve Higgins cruising through the lagoon in front of Universal Studios.
But that was about it. And after a few minutes, he was on to other things, like cracks about Barack Obama's bothersome right foot (not covered by Obamacare!) and Alex Trebek (he's a diva!).
In fact, Monday's taping — with an Orlando skyline instead of the New York City backdrop behind his desk and palm trees behind house band the Roots — was focused more on hype for Universal Orlando and its new Harry Potter-themed expansion Diagon Alley, expected to open really, really soon. Lots of segments filmed in Diagon Alley, lots of talk about Universal and its two parks (Jimmy is afraid of the Hulk ride). NBC, which airs the Tonight Show, and Universal are both owned by Comcast, so the timing of Fallon's Florida trip is no coincidence.
Not that the audience of roughly 800 eager fans minded. All four of this week's tapings sold out within minutes when tickets were released a month ago, and it showed in the energy level of Monday's crowd, the first group to see Fallon's Tonight Show outside of New York City. They ate it all up, from a hilarious (though not kid-friendly) segment set in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter 's Ollivander's wand shop, to Fallon dancing with guest Jennifer Lopez, to a new "rap" from Brian Williams.
For a group of people from Lakeland-based boutique film company Indie Atlantic Films, seeing Fallon's show was even worth shutting down business for a day: The entire office of about 10 people made the trek down I-4 to see Monday's taping.
Matt Wiatt, 32, was the ringleader, the one who refreshed the ticketing site constantly until everyone in the office somehow miraculously scored a ticket.
"Fallon's up there in the books," Wiatt's co-worker Andy McEntire, 29, said. "He's relatable. I mean, you know it's a big deal if we shut down the office for a day."
Watching a taping of the Tonight Show in person is very different from viewing it on your couch. It's much more intimate. Even with a crowd roughly four times the size of the New York City tapings, the set looks smaller in person than it does on TV.
Maybe that's because there are a lot of people packed into the space between Fallon and the audience. A smattering of crew members stand in front of his desk: camera operators, guys holding cue cards, a stage manager who's always counting things down. During commercial breaks, women come out to touch up Fallon's hair and makeup. The camera operators swirl around in a well-choreographed dance. Higgins comes over to chat with Fallon while the Roots rock out.
These tapings are a well-oiled machine, and everything you see on Monday night's show was filmed live; there were no second or third takes of anything. Fallon was on the whole time, cracking jokes with Lopez during commercials and giggling while watching the pretaped footage.
Lopez was back as the first guest on Monday's show after her Tonight Show appearance just last week in which she sang a silly song about tight pants — the bit gained her major cool points with the crowd. Last Comic Standing's Keenan Ivory Wayans was up next to offer fatherly advice in honor of Fallon's first Father's Day with daughter Winnie.
If you're going to the show, be prepared for a long day. Wiatt and McEntire got to the ticket pick-up area just outside of Soundstage 20 around 9:30 a.m. to make sure they got their tickets. (Read your reservation info carefully; shows are overbooked to ensure a full audience.) The 5 p.m. taping lasted about an hour, but each night's musical guest (on Monday, it was Lopez) doesn't perform till 9 p.m., on a separate stage in the Universal Studios park. Bonus: Those performances are open to any Universal Studios parkgoers.
Over the next three days, Fallon says he's going to spend more time at parks, play a Simpsons-themed Duff Beer drinking game with Pitbull, jam with musical guest Jimmy Buffett. Really, though, he's just excited to be in Florida, like he is about most things. "Thanks for having us!" he politely told Monday's crowd.
Michelle Stark can be reached at [email protected]