Two weeks ago Jimmy Fallon took the plunge into the thick of the 11:30 p.m. late-night talk show battle, and Sunday he another plunge. This time it was into the icy waters of Lake Michigan with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel for the annual Polar Plunge to benefit Special Olympics.
The stunt was a favor by Fallon in return for Emmanuel appearing on the Tonight Show. For Fallon it was a business affair, and the talk show host and former Saturday Night Live cast-member took the dip into the frigid waters in his suit and tie. Emmanuel was casual, wearing a cut off wet suit with a green Chicago Public Library over it.
A large crowd braved temperatures in the teens to watch the event, with some arriving as early as 5 a.m. to get a good seat. Fallon gave hugs to a pair of shrieking high girls holding a cardboard cut-out of his head, finally breaking the moment by explaining that he had to go meet the mayor. Most of the onlookers wore parkas and were bundled like polar bears to watch Emmanuel, then Fallon, take the plunge over their heads into the freezing water which had been cleared of ice chunks earlier by a group of Chicago firefighters. All told, around 3000 people braved the cold to take the plunge–700 more than last year. Fallon and Emmanuel were greeted with cheers when they emerged from the lake and serenaded by a bagpipe band garbed in rain boots and yellow kilts.
Emmanuel was fulfilling his own obligations by taking the daring dip. Last summer he challenged his city’s children to read 2 million books during a program called “Rahm’s Readers” through the Chicago Public Library. The mayor pledged he would “jump in the lake” if the kids reached their number. Nothing was said about whether or not the 32-degree waters of the Polar Plunge were part of the deal, but Emmanuel embraced the challenge and never complained.
The Polar Plunge is a yearly event in Chicago which benefits the Special Olympics. Emmanuel took time to talk about the charity before the event, relating a story of meeting a mother of Special Olympian the day before the event and being told how much his participation meant to her. President of the Chicago Special Olympics Jen Kramer credited Fallon for the record turnout this year.
For Fallon’s part the plunge has been a fun viewer-participation campaign. Jimmy’s followers have hounded him on Twitter with a “#Jimmyplungewithus” campaign, and many in Chicago on Sunday donned black t-shirts the read “#SwimmyFallon” across the front. Many of Fallon’s fans were seen wearing cardboard masks of his face.
Jimmy Fallon took the reins of the Tonight Show from long-time host Jay Leno in February and his numbers have done everything but plunge. Neilson ratings for the first week of Fallon’s run showed more total viewers than any Tonight Show since the last week the show was hosted by Johnny Carson in 1992. Second-week numbers remain strong with an average of 5.5 million viewers, compared to the 4 million averaged by Leno. By comparison, CBS’s David Letterman and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel average 3 million viewers per night.
By Chuck Podhaisky