Jimmy Fallon Rules the Internets

It wasn’t a Peabody or even an Emmy. But for Jimmy Fallon, winning the Webby person-of-the-year award might just be the most important honor he ever gets.

The “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” host’s show began in March – but he spent weeks before his debut using the Internet to build his audience, posting videos, blogging and Twittering away. He’s kept up the Web end of his show, and set the tone on TV by mixing in Internet friendly guests like Diggnation’s Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht.

Sarah Silverman won a Webby for her viral “I’m (blanking) Matt Damon” video, while “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane was honored for his Web-based “Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy” shorts.

The awards are signs that comedy is becoming king on the web – and that TV alone may not be enough anymore to keep at the top of the funny business.

Fallon wisely used the Internet to target young viewers, who are watching an increasing amount of video on the Web, instead of TV, thanks to services like YouTube and Hulu. A report by In-Stat released this week found that more than 40 percent of young adult US households view Internet video on the TV at least once a month – a number that’s only going to grow with the increasing popularity of Web-to-TV streaming services.

In another sign of the times, The Onion – whose Internet version also won a Webby – reportedly is shutting down its print edition in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Smart comics have managed to adapt to changing media – just think of vaudevillians like Bob Hope, who went from the stage to radio and movies to TV. These days, Will Ferrell, a star of TV, the movies – and even Broadway – is at the forefront of the Web comedy movement with funnyordie.com. The hilarious “Prop 8: The Musical” video, which originated on funnyordie.com, was another Webby winner.

The good thing – and perhaps bad thing – about comedy on the Web is that, unlike TV, it’s the equivalent of a never-ending open-mic night. There’s more opportunity to discover new comic voices that may or may not make it beyond the computer screen.

Fallon, who got his start on “Saturday Night Live,” was hailed in his Webby citation as "one of the most ardent online evangelists." Like any comic, he simply craves an audience – even one that just logs on for laughs.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.

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