A Peak Behind the Mask: Why I Will Watch Jimmy Fallon and Bradley Cooper Laughing for Five Minures

Man in Groucho Marks mask; courtesy of gratisographyTalk shows are fake. We all know it.

The host might not be fake. The guests might not be fake, but the entire setup is quite forced and restricted. There is a set amount of time that needs to be filled with quality material: a few laughs, perhaps an anecdote that makes us a bit emotional, a self-deprecating moment.

And this is all generally planned out. Not scripted necessarily, but planned. There are multiple takes and bits, and when it is all done well, we don’t notice the piecing together.

I am not suggesting this is wrong, or that it’s misleading, at least not anymore than any other bit of “production.” But I find it all a little boring, a little too predictable.

Even with a host like Jimmy Fallon, a multi-faceted and talented comedian who earned his keep at Saturday Night Live, the format forces everything to the center. The people in charge of the Tonight Show are betting on safe, not bold, not risky. And maybe they’re right–the show has certainly lasted long enough to quiet critics.

Most of my Tonight Show viewing comes from the occasional YouTube clip. And I participate like a typical viewer. I laugh at the stories. I let the entertainers entertain. I go along with the whole charade.

But I don’t usually find it compelling until the masks are lowered, until something real happens. That rarely makes it on air, but thanks to the Internet, we sometimes get a peak at what happens when the plan breaks down. And thanks to the Internet, I can come across this video of Jimmy Fallon and Bradley Cooper experiencing a real moment. 

For minutes, they are unable to stop laughing, unable to keep their masks on. In part because they have to leave some ridiculous hats on. I won’t recommend that you watch the whole thing (it’s ten minutes long), but I’ll admit that I couldn’t pull myself away.

We find joy in these moments all the time, in watching bloopers and gaffs, in seeing SNL cast members struggle to not break character. In part, it is hard not to see someone else genuinely laughing without our mirror neurons firing, allowing us to experience a small part of the gaiety. Mostly, though, I think we are thrilled by the unexpected glimpse at sincerity.

We crave authenticity. Too often those moments are relegated to gag reels or Internet clips when maybe they should be the regularly scheduled programming.

I would do well to remember that in my own writing, and in my own life.

What are some of your favorite moments of authenticity? What actors do you enjoy watching break character?


  1. Melanie says

    It’s been a few years since I’ve watched CNN, but one of my favorite things was watching Anderson Cooper crack up on air and fail for quite a while to recover.

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