This is part 2 of 2 part series on what we can learn from Jimmy Fallon and The Tonight Show. Be sure to check out the great short article in the link in Part 1.
How do we learn to reach and engage people in a relevant way? One way is by studying those who are engaging our generation in some pretty incredible ways, like The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
As I mentioned in part 1, we got the awesome opportunity to go see The Tonight Show live. Here are a few of the things I took away from the experience:
- People were prepared for the experience they were about to have. By this, I mean two things. First, all of us wanted to be there. We came excited and ready to engage. There was a kind of “electricity” to it. Like anything could spark a laugh or a good time. The place was packed (which is huge in creating this kind of energy too). Here’s the thing: Studio 6B only seats 240 people. This is around the seating capacity of our Etters Campus! If you went to Celebration Sunday or were a part of it any way, I think this was so true of that experience. People came charged and ready to worship and celebrate our Love Does generosity campaign. There was a palpable energy. And I don’t mean anything weird or “new-agey” by this, just that people were excited in a contagious kind of way. This is a huge part of what made this an awesome worship experience (and we didn’t even need “APPLAUSE” signs :). Second, late night shows and comedies have “warm-up comics.” Seth Herzog did an awesome job orienting us to The Tonight Show in a fun and funny way. He was able to engage the audience and make us laugh even while he was telling us where the fire exits were. Try that sometime. That’s not an easy thing to do, and takes hard work and talent. This pre-show was just as fun as the rest of the show that was actually recorded.
- Make guests feel welcome. Not only did we feel welcomed and special as guests in the studio (the NBC Pages did an excellent job of bringing us through security in a way that kept the mood light even though we had to go through a metal detector…TSA could learn a few lessons from them), but Jimmy seemed to go out of his way to make sure that special guests felt welcome there. Chad Smith (from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) sat in with the Roots. Jimmy went over and spoke with him directly several times and even asked him questions during an audience Q&A.
- You can do a lot in an hour. The whole show is taped pretty much in “real time” (about an hour). There was great variety in content and it easily maintained our interest. Even during one more complex set change, Jimmy did an audience Q&A. We generally take about 70-75 minutes of people’s time for our worship gatherings.
- Style Doesn’t Matter. Excellence and authenticity does. They played songs I didn’t know. I didn’t care. They grooved like crazy. They made good music.
- When covering a song, overcome challenges in fun and creative ways. Prior to taping the show, The Roots did a special performance of “Under the Bridge,” just for the studio audience, with guest drummer Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. There’s a classic break in the song that has some high reverse guitar sounds. Rather than doing those sounds with multiple guitars (which they don’t have) or some other instrument, Questlove and Chad Smith mimicked the reverse guitar sounds vocally. This not only made the performance memorable and unique, it was a creative way to overcome a musical performance challenge, and it was a hilarious and entertaining and special moment for the audience. We cover a lot of songs as a band. Let’s look for creative and fun ways to solve the challenge of performing songs and “making them our own.”
- Musical transitions rock. Music is a huge and important transition on The Tonight Show. The Roots songs are never introduced, though sometimes Fallon or a guest might reference a song that was just played. But we “got” it. We intuitively understood that a transition was happening. This has to take a lot of work to coordinate, but they made it seem easy and fun.
- Rehearsal is huge, and it’s not just for those on stage, but also for those off stage. I was struck by how fluid and practiced the camera movements seemed to be. Transitions were seamless. Video clips rolled when they were supposed to. Mics didn’t feedback. Lighting cues happened on time. This didn’t happen by accident. Apparently it’s not just Carnegie Hall, but you also get to Studio 6B by “practice, practice, practice.” Let’s continually “raise the bar” on what we do. The way that we incorporate music, videos, and other experiential moments takes a lot of preparation and coordination that can only happen in rehearsal.
- Mistakes happen, but life goes on. The only mistake that I was aware of happened when Fallon missed a cue to welcome people back from a commercial break. Whether it was his fault or not, he owned the mistake quickly, apologized, and they started right back from The Roots’ musical transition out of commercial. Own it quickly, apologize genuinely, and move on.
So what would you add to this list if you’ve seen the show? I hope people could have the same kinds of takeaways from our worship experiences. More than that, I hope we care about these kinds of things so that people can have the opportunity to encounter Jesus himself.
I got to high five Jimmy at the end of the show, and I was stoked…
But you know what? Even though this encounter brightened my day, my week, and maybe even my year (sorry, I went all “theme from the TV show Friends” there without even realizing it)…it will fade eventually. I have to be honest. I’m pretty sure this encounter won’t make an eternal difference in my life, as awesome as it was.
What I really need, and what people at our worship gatherings are longing for, is an encounter with their Creator. I want to experience the Risen Christ among us, and feel our hearts “burn within us” because we know Jesus is with us like the disciples on the road to Emmaus; to fall on our knees exclaiming, “God is really among you,” like Paul wanted for the guests at the church in Corinth. And even more than that, to know that we can have an ongoing relationship with Him, that we don’t have to jump through any ticket-raffling hoops, or have any mad web skillz just for the chance to be in His presence. Wow! This is the experience and the life that our hearts long for; what they were made for.
After taking in the experience, I wanted to learn more about the production. So I checked out wikipedia. Here’s a parting question I have after reading the entry there…
What makes us uniquely us? The Roots added two more horn players to their roster when they moved to The Tonight Show. Questlove is quoted as saying “You can’t be The Tonight Show without a horn section…” Fill in the blank: “You can’t be Capital Area Christian Church without ____________.”