Since "Jimmy Kimmel Live" premiered in 2003, the cantankerous late-night host has made a habit of working his love of pranks into the show. In the beginning, it did well for him, earning him attention online from a valuable, younger demographic that might have otherwise ignored his late-night network show.
But another 11:30 p.m. host, Jimmy Fallon, who took over NBC's "Tonight Show" at the beginning of the year, is beating his ABC counterpart not only in traditional television ratings, but in a medium perhaps more relevant the younger set: the viral video.
How has viral veteran Kimmel been overtaken by the upstart "Tonight Show" host? Because Fallon knows that it's funnier to laugh at himself than at someone else.
One of Kimmel's first viral hits was the time he asked parents to pretend to eat all their kids' Halloween candy. In on the joke, the audience laughed along to the tune of 47 million YouTube views.
Then he started pranking us, quietly posting YouTube videos that appeared to have been shot by regular people, only to reveal days later on air that his team had manufactured the viral sensation, and that -- ha ha -- we had been silly enough to fall for it.
But now there's a new host of the "Tonight Show," another Jimmy who has learned how to go big on YouTube without being a jerk. And sorry, Kimmel, but you can't keep up with Fallon. Because sure, the Internet likes to indulge in a little schadenfreude every now and then, and everyone likes a prank, but what we like more is some feel-good camaraderie.
One of Kimmel's most popular hoaxes involved a girl who, while seemingly trying to twerk upside down, fell backward and burned herself on nearby candles.
We wanted to believe that a girl made a fool of herself trying to dance, and then was a good sport about it by posting it to YouTube. (And not getting seriously injured. Because why would she post it to Youtube if she got hurt?) We also wanted to believe that other people are as silly and goofy and accident-prone as we are.
But when Kimmel revealed himself to be the Oz behind the video, it just made us feel stupid.
It was a beautiful prank. I could have forgiven Kimmel's smug, "gotcha" attitude at his own brilliance, if it weren't for the mean streak evident across a bunch of his viral videos, many of which seem to center around making others look dumb.
One reoccurring segment is "Lie Witness News," in which people are asked to share their opinion about the Super Bowl halftime show a week before the Super Bowl even airs. The goal is to catch these average Joes in a lie, because who wants it revealed on TV that they don't care about the Super Bowl? A recent article from Mashable, however, suggests these interviews may be a little more staged than is let on.
Another segment, called "Celebrities Read Mean Tweets," involves movie stars like Julia Roberts and Ashton Kutcher reading harsh tweets written about them by Twitter's everyday critics. But this segment's legitimacy has also been called into question: Some suggest the mean tweets are made up.
Even if these segments aren't staged, Kimmel's pranks are giving him a bad reputation. We're all waiting for the "gotcha" moment in each video.
Now, let's look at his competition.
Fallon has a different style, which can go equally or even more viral. His popular segments include lip-sync battles between him and celebs, like this one with actress Emma Stone:
This is a regular segment on Fallon's "Tonight Show." It's not made specifically for an Internet audience, but it usually goes viral. Why? Because it's fun to watch famous people acting absurd.
No one is the butt of the joke. No one is tricked. Beautiful people are humbled when they give performances as ridiculous as the one I did in my bathroom mirror this morning. Oh, and Emma's Stone's lip-syncing battle has more than 19 million views since it was posted last month. Kimmel's twerking girl stunt has 16 million, and it was posted eight months ago.
Here's another Fallon video:
His water war with Lindsay Lohan -- and who hasn't made fun of LiLo? -- is just another good time where both Fallon and his guest get a little silly.
While Kimmel's Sochi wolf prank got 5 million views and Fallon's Lohan video got only 3 million, Fallon's videos from March (the same month the LiLo segment aired) were getting four times more views than Kimmel's and were receiving less backlash.
No one is saying Jimmy Kimmel can't have a bit of fun. Pranks are his thing, and we get that. But if Jimmy Fallon is the life of the late-night TV party who's not afraid to let his freak flag fly, Kimmel is the frenemy who keeps telling us that there's a spot on our shirt and calling us stupid when we look.
Academic studies tell us positivity shares well online. In 2013, researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas found that cute or funny videos share better than ones that evoke negative emotions. You know, stuff like Seth Rogen dressed as a 14-year-old girl with a crush on Gary Oldman. That's funny. I want my friends to see that.
Kimmel's old stuff -- like that time he "f**ked Ben Affleck" to get back at Sarah Silverman and Matt Damon -- made me laugh, because Kimmel was laughing at himself. But who wants to be that person who shares a "Lie Witness News" video with the caption "Look at these idiots who are just lying to get on TV! OMG SO FUNNY."
You, Jimmy Kimmel. You're that guy.
Fallon's boyish, I-can't-even-tell-a-joke-without-laughing-at-myself sense of humor is more feel-good than an Upworthy video. Meanwhile, I just can't trust Kimmel anymore. I'm tired of being the punch line of his jokes, and I'm not particularly interested in watching others be made fun of, either.
This is the part where I'm supposed to make a pun about crying wolf or playing with fire, but I'll pass on that, because it's been done before. And no one is going to laugh at the same joke twice.