Matthew McConaughey, Chip and Joanna Gaines and Gucci Mane joined Jimmy Fallon for a night Austin won’t forget.
By Courtney Runn, Photos by Andrew Lipovsky/NBC
Jimmy Fallon brought the magic of The Tonight Show to the 40 Acres tonight. Despite dropping temperatures and drizzle, the three thousand students who won tickets lined up outside Bass Concert Hall hours before the 5 p.m. taping. Inside, the stage was transformed into Fallon’s NBC studio with a few Texas twists. The Austin skyline stretched behind Fallon’s wooden desk and a burnt-orange Longhorn decorated the Roots’ drum set.
Ahead of the show’s taping, Fallon spent the week on campus, dropping in on the Daily Texan office, splashing in the campus fountain and hanging at Hole in the Wall. From the multiple burnt-orange shirts he wore around town to the University of Texas band uniform he opened the show in, Fallon was all in on Texas. And he did his research; within the first five minutes of the show, he quipped, “If you wanted to go somewhere that was easy to get into, y’all would be at Texas A&M right now.”
Professor Matthew McConaughey made his requisite appearance, tearing through a Minister of Culture banner to the cheers of the crowd. In an all-white suit and a burnt orange tie and flashing a hook ’em, he lived up to his legend and waxed poetic about the “soul of Austin” during his interview with Fallon. His message to the city: “Keep Austin Austin.”
The two sang an acoustic “Eyes of Texas” before Waco, Texas’ darlings Chip and Joanna Gaines took the stage. To the boos of the crowd, they gifted Fallon a Baylor University hat and bragged on the Bears’ winning football season. Chip Gaines gave Fallon a two-stepping lesson in matching cowboy hats before it was on to the next Texan guest: Gucci Mane. The rapper introduced the crowd to the “trap version” of the Eyes and performed a song off his latest album, Woptober II.
With a rousing rendition of “Deep in the Heart of Texas” to close the show, Fallon gave McConaughey a run for his money as the Minister of Culture. Members of the band, mascot Hook ’Em and UT’s baton twirler joined Fallon on stage, dancing and clapping along in a personification of UT spirit.
Fallon in Austin was Fallon at his best: prepared, warm, funny, self-deprecating. But the true magic of the show was not the celebrity guests or even the host himself, but the energy exuding from the crowd and the palpable, pulsing school spirit. The crowd was a sea of burnt orange and fingers were ready to hook ’em at a second’s notice. A spontaneous “Texas Fight” broke out during a commercial break, the top balcony leading the rest of the concert hall in the school chant.
At the beginning of the show, Fallon brought on stage three students to surprise them with free “holiday bundles” from the show’s sponsor Samsung. The tear-jerking cherry on top? Samsung also committed to pay the remaining tuition for all three students. The students were shocked; the crowd went wild. It was a perfect moment of talk-show magic that will become a viral video on social media tomorrow.
In his final monologue, Fallon said he picked UT as the first school for a Tonight Show taping after watching the crowd energy at ESPN’s College GameDay on campus earlier this fall. His crowd tonight didn’t disappoint. If watching Fallon’s YouTube videos offer a few minutes of happiness, sitting in a crowd of thousands of students beaming with pride for their school and thrilled to be in the presence of Fallon was pure euphoria.
In line for the show, a senior reminisced to two sophomores that her freshman year, Ellen DeGeneres’ team had taped a sketch on campus. “But this is better,” the student said. Whenever the next celebrity drops in on campus, those two sophomores will be sharing their own stories of the night Jimmy Fallon came to campus.