Jimmy Fallon is charming, enthusiastic, and totally non-controversial. Ask any fan or casual “Late Night” viewer, and you’ll hear things like, “Yeah, he seems like a really nice guy.” Recently, however, Fallon was also the conduit for Artie Lange (a washed-up comedian and self-identified “G-List” celebrity) to spew sexism and to promote ogling and objectifying women as a vehicle for male bonding.
A quick summary: On Fallon’s February 18th show, Lange shared a story of meeting NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown at a celebrity football game. Rather than playing in the game, Lange and Brown both sat on the bench and occupied themselves by “staring at Kate Upton’s ass.” Upton is a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, and she was wearing “real tight pants” that day, by Lange’s account. During the football game, Brown apparently gestured toward Ms. Upton and said to Lange, “I’d like to get some of that, huh?” Lange replied, “Yeah, tell me about it,” and the two reportedly exchanged a ‘high five.’
When Lange reached that point in the story, Fallon threw his head back, clapped, and asked between stifled giggles, “That’s how you bonded with Jim Brown?” The audience roared with laughter and applause.
In this instance, Fallon serves to “sanitize” Lange’s sexism. Fallon is wholesome and fresh faced. He’s America’s late night television sweetheart. If you read the direct quotes from Lange in this piece (or the unofficial transcript that I’ve provided below), you’ll probably feel disgusted. But when Fallon serves as Lange’s de facto coconspirator and adds his friendly banter, laughter, and applause to the story, the sexism is less palpable. Fallon laughs along with Lange, and the audience applauds the notion of a 45-year-old comic and a 77-year-old retired NFL player objectifying a 20-year-old model, wishing they could “get some of that.”
Lange’s anecdote about Upton and Brown only lasted about ninety seconds, but there were two especially telling moments:
#1) When Lange first mentions Upton’s “real tight pants,” Fallon begins pointing at him—as if to interrupt—but he stops himself and rests his hand on his chin. Fallon’s body language says (to me, at least), “Hey, that was kind of sexist, but not so sexist that I’m going to make a scene.”
Fallon’s split-second reticence perfectly encapsulates how apathy perpetuates sexism today: “That was sexist, but mehhh.” Seth MacFarlane made a bunch of boob jokes at the Oscars? Oh well. The New York Post ran a flagrantly sexist headline about Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi hearing? Yeah, stuff happens.
#2) After introducing Jim Brown to the story, Lange continues: “I realized after about ten minutes that both of us were just staring at Kate Upton’s ass. It’s a foot in front of us. And we’re two men and we’re just, you know, we’re drawn to her ass. And we’re looking at it.”
Lange doesn’t refer to Upton as a model or an actress or even with the pronoun “her.” He refers to her—or more specifically, to her derriere—as an “it,” because that’s how he sees Kate Upton. “It’s a foot in front of us…. we’re looking at it.”
Yes, Kate Upton is an attractive person who makes money by posing for photos in limited amounts of clothing, but she’s still a person. This is textbook objectification, but the audience, which is presumably about half female, shrugs it off. What’s worse—it’s objectification with a purpose. Ogling Kate Upton’s ass allowed Lange to bond with one of his sports heroes. The whole incident sends an implicit message to viewers that women are objects for men’s viewing pleasure and benefit. I’m not surprised that Artie Lange is a misogynist or that late night talk shows cross boundaries of good taste for cheap laughs. I’m disappointed that Jimmy Fallon—who’s smart and knows better (I hope)—still succumbs to and promotes a culture of sexism and objectification.
TRANSCRIPT (Video here)
Lange: Katie Upton, the super model, was on my team. Okay. And I sat on the bench the whole time.
Fallon: Swimsuit cover model.
Lange: Unbelievable. And she had these real tight pants on. And it was me and Jim Brown. And Jim Brown and I—the legendary, you know, running back for the Browns—we we’re on the bench together the entire time. And his excuse was he’s eighty. Mine is I’ve had too many cheesesteaks, I guess. You know.
Fallon: (Laughing) Too many cheesesteaks.
Lange: And I thought, “I’d love to bond with Jim Brown; how do I do that?” Now, I realized after about ten minutes that both of us were just staring at Kate Upton’s ass.
Lange: It’s a foot in front of us. And we’re two men and we’re just, you know, we’re drawn to her ass. And we’re looking at it. And even in that moment, I’m such a sports fan I’m thinking, “What do I say to Jim Brown?” And after ten minutes I feel someone hitting my knee like this. And it’s him. And I look over and he looks at me says, “Hey, I’d like some of that, huh?”
Fallon: (Leans back laughing, claps twice) That’s how you bonded with Jim Brown?
Lange: And I went, “Tell me about it.” And he went like this and gave me a high five, and that’s the only thing we’ve ever said to each other.
Fallon: That’s the way you gotta do it when you gotta do it.
Lange: That’s the only thing he ever said to me. I mean, he literally looked at me and said, “I’d like some of that, huh?”
Fallon: Yeah, absolutely. That’s how you bond.