‘The Tonight Show’: Ignore Fallon and listen to the Roots

The Roots perform on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
The Roots perform on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” Andrew Lipovsky/NBC

When Hillary Clinton walked out to chat with Jimmy Fallon on “The Tonight Show” Monday, the Roots played “Mighty Healthy” by Ghostface Killah, a not-so-subtle nod to the increased focus on the Democratic presidential nominee’s health.

Fallon donned a surgical mask at the start of the interview, before bringing up the pneumonia diagnosis that Clinton’s doctor said caused her to lose her balance as she tried to leave a 9/11 memorial service early.

As Pitchfork and others noted, the “Tonight Show” house band played “20 Feet Tall” by Erykah Badu when Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump walked on to “The Tonight Show” set last Thursday. Sample lyrics:

“My love what did I do to make you fall so far from me

“And now, I can’t recall cause of the fall selective memory

“Then you, you built a wall

“A 20-foot wall

“So I couldn’t see”

Get it?

Bandleader Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson has written about the importance of walk-on (or “walkover” in industry parlance) music on “The Tonight Show.” In his book “Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove,” the drummer explained the band’s practice of using specific songs for some guests, writing that he wanted the walk-on music to “be the talk show equivalent of video game Easter eggs.”

“Most of the time, the walk-on is harmless and fun, a way to flex our musical and pop-culture muscles,” he wrote in an excerpt published by Salon. “But there are times when it gives us a chance to practice a bit of commentary.”

One such case almost got Thompson fired from the show. He had the band play Fishbone’s “Lyin’ A— B—-” as walk-on music for Michele Bachmann, during her campaign for president in 2011. As he wrote in his book:

“Bachmann had been offending people left and right with her comments about gay rights and Muslims in America, and she also seemed to have a casual relationship with the truth. I learned that at one point fact-checkers had set a time limit for themselves on how many of her evasions and misrepresentations they were going to catch. That was my starting point, and I set out on a mission to find the best song about politics and evasion and untruth. I considered ‘Lies,’ either the En Vogue one or the McFly one, but we don’t generally sing any lyrics, so I ended up picking Fishbone’s ‘Lyin’ A— B—,’ a ska number from their 1985 debut. It had a good little melody and lots of energy. It seemed funny to me.”

NBC did not find the stunt funny. Initially, few even noticed the song choice, but when Thompson later acknowledged it on Twitter, the story went viral. Thompson wrote that Fallon “made a formal apology to Bachmann on Twitter, which put me squarely in the crosshairs (which, to be fair, was exactly where I belonged).”

The band’s choices this week for Clinton, and even Trump, were decidedly less controversial. But the band’s pointed message stands in contrast with Fallon, who has been criticized for his lighthearted interview with Trump last week – the highlight of which was Fallon messing up the presidential nominee’s hair.

“The Tonight Show” host responded to critics Monday by pulling out a bag of softballs Trump had “left” in his dressing room. “He left these for you,” Clinton joked. “No, that was my gift to him,” Fallon said.