method to his gladness: positivity, gen y, & jimmy fallon (best of the blog)

Probably the most-read series of the year was “Jimmy Fallon and Gen Y.” In the series, I explored the brand-new Late Night with Jimmy Fallon‘s outstanding use of Millennial-reaching methods. As we looked at ways we can incorporate these methods within our ministries (since our entire audience is presently Millennial), lots of people took a look, the posts garnered several comments, and a co-producer of Late Night even chimed in!

Today’s “Best of the Blog” post, focusing on the way Positivity connects with Gen Y, is one of my favorites from this series.

As new generations rise, it makes sense that they would often share some characteristics of the previous generation. For instance, Millennials and the members of Generation X share an appreciation of technology, desire for authenticity, and hope to find strong community.

But one of the clearest differences between the Millennial Generation (a.k.a. Gen Y) and its immediate Gen X predecessors is positivity. Millennials (as a group) seem to possess a rather audacious optimism that has broad application in their lives – while obviously one of the classic-if-caricatured observations about Gen X is that its members are hard-core cynics.

And yes, this is yet another way Late Night with Jimmy Fallon brilliantly reflects and appeals to the Millennial generation: through purposeful positivity.

Watch an hour of Late Night, and you’re bound to see the happy optimism rear its pretty head. Just last night, for instance, Will Arnett jokingly declared it “the compliment show” after Jimmy characteristically kept praising his work.

But does that really mean this is on-purpose positivity? Couldn’t Jimmy simply be a positive kind of chap? He may very well be, but co-producer Gavin Purcell revealed here on my blog that there’s method to his gladness:

[O]ne thing that stood head and shoulders above everything that we wanted to do with the show from the beginning was build a comedy/talk show that wasn’t based entirely on being nasty. Jimmy, myself and my boss our showrunner, from the beginning wanted the show to feel positive and a kind of place where people felt like they were laughing with others rather than at them. That idea seems to fit nicely into Millennials ideals as well. [Read the whole comment here.]

It’s not that Fallon doesn’t mock on occasion; his monologue has the usual roastings of newsworthy people, and snarky comments are certainly part of his repertoire. But they’re far less frequent than you might expect from a late night host.

And meanwhile, there’s a willingness to embrace… well, everything.

Star Trek fans, video game players, goofy audience members, Spencer and Heidi Pratt, Twitterers… all these and more can expect relentless scorn in most late night quarters. But they have room on Jimmy’s show – at least for acknowledgment, and often for appreciation and promotion.

It was just a few weeks ago that Jimmy was excited to hear about a guest’s visit to Bonnaroo, the annual 4-day hippie music festival in Tennessee; by contrast, Conan O’Brien sent the infamous Triumph the Insult Comic Dog to ridicule Bonnaroo attendees to their faces.

And back in March, as Jimmy chose to zero in on one particular team in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tourney – the 16th-seeded Chattanooga Mocs – I expected the show to pick the low-hanging comedy fruit available by cheap-shotting this long-shot (or no-shot) team.

Only… it didn’t. The approach wasn’t humorless – but it wasn’t merciless, either. As the week progressed, the school band came on the show, the studio audience got in the act, and Fallon video-chatted with Head Coach John Shulman. And after the team got pounded by UConn in the tournament, its seniors and head coach sat in the audience as guests of the show. (For a great couple of clips from that week and a little more of the story, see this article.)

The new Late Night works a unique sort of optimism into its humor. And often it’s even vice versa – the show offers optimism, presented in a humorous way. (This helps explain why some viewers might find Jimmy unfunny and likeable at the same time.)

So what does this mean for us?

A couple of years ago, a pastor asked me an intriguing question – How do we, who are part of cynical Gen X, relate well to all these optimistic Gen Y college students? Many of us in college ministry really are in a different generation than the students we minister to, and it’s worth examining how our natural approaches might not reflect our students OR connect with them well.

We have to be careful about our snarkiness, which I know is the “mother tongue” for many of us. We can’t insensitively dismiss our students’ excitement about hope and change and impact and BIG IDEAS… (even though, yes, there are times to lovingly check students’ over-optimism). The cynicism our own youth ministers got big laughs through might not work with our particular flocks. And so on.

At the same time, there is much to gain by “tuning in” to the positivity of our students. They’re not apathetic (like we might have been!); they want to serve and lead and believe they can make a positive impact. They’re not anti-leadership or anti-”system.” They’re ready and willing to bring people very different from themselves into their circle of community – whether they be tech geeks or music festival attendees or frat guys.

This is one of the harder areas for me to get my head around, so hopefully we can all think together about how we might “become positive, so that we might win the positive.” And we have at least one (surprising) tutor hosting Late Night.

[This is the 5th post in a series on Jimmy Fallon’s Millennial methods. See all of ‘em here.]

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